A historic event took place back in 2015, when Florida’s first same-sex marriage united local gay activists Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones. The fact the ceremony took place at Key West’s Monroe County Courthouse says a lot about the destination’s long-time welcoming attitude.
Today more than 250,000 LGBTQ+ visitors vacation in Key West yearly, according to Key West Business Guild, a nonprofit devoted to promoting the destination to LGBTQ+ travelers. And the southernmost city in the continental United States is more than just a gay vacation hot spot: About 30 percent of Key West’s 25,000 residents identify as part of the community. So it’s no wonder the destination enjoys such a great reputation with gay globetrotters from around the world.
Same-sex weddings and honeymoons remain a major focus for the destination’s tourism industry … and with good reason. Key West was Florida’s first city to recognize same-sex domestic partnerships and marriage equality, and the city’s Monroe County was the state’s first county to recognize those same rights for the entire chain of Florida Keys.
Most gay and lesbian weddings in Key West and the Florida Keys are intimate gatherings with fewer than 30 guests, according to Guy Ross, LGBT sales manager, Monroe County Tourist Development Council. “Perhaps the only ‘change’ that we are seeing now with the advent of marriage equality is the inclusion of more family members and more mainstream friends in gay and lesbian ceremonies,” he said.
Memorable entertainment offers another selling point for Key West. Nightlife fans out among several bars including Bourbon St. Pub, which hosts fanciful theme parties, and LaTeDa, a boutique hotel home to world-renowned female impersonators. The Key West Pride celebration takes place in June, while Fantasy Fest brings yet another parade and lots of open-air festivities to the city’s streets in October (canceled this year due to the global pandemic). A variety of gay-owned and gay-friendly hotels also roll out the welcome mat for LGBTQ+ visitors — including the male-only Island House and Equator Resort hotels, as well as Alexander’s Guesthouse and a variety of upscale properties welcoming all travelers. In Key West the rainbow carpet rolls out just about everywhere — even in the streets, where the four corners at the intersection of Duval and Petronia streets boast permanent rainbow crosswalks.
As more travelers hit the road again, they tend to travel shorter distances. That includes LGBTQ+ globetrotters, who find a variety of great vacation options without leaving the continent. These five top destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers in North America offer lots of reasons to reignite wanderlust.
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