Fusty folks who’ve whined about Fantasy Fest slithering into public debauchery might be about to get some help from the State of Florida. Ditto those who’ve silently or otherwise sniffed self-righteously over minimally clothed visitors lining Duval Street during the Key West Pride Week Parade. And we dare not forget those whose eyes roll big when the brain registers that the supremely lovely woman managing with aplomb those mile-high heels is not, indeed, a woman.
Despite an annual two-week ritual of angst and hand-wringing among some locals over nudity during Fantasy Fest, thus making it unsuitable for children (as if it ever were), Key West pretty much doesn’t get exercised over such things as drag queens, vibrator races and rainbow tutus on public employees. We were doing drag long before Mrs. Doubtfire. We’ve done Pride practically forever, if one counts backward to Tennessee Williams’ 1941 Key West visit.
We are, after all, an island of libertarians who really ought get credit for creating “you do you; I’ll do me.” As long as one isn’t a jerk — and as long as you don’t totally derail my making money — we’re happy to have you around. We are masters at going along to get along. Witness our exceptional economic success as a plethora of Confederate rebels adapted handsomely in a Union-held town during the Civil War.
Drag queens perform every day. Pride Week kicks off June 7. Womenfest is Sept. 6. Fantasy Fest starts Oct. 20. And all is right with the world. It’s not like it’s a secret there are LGBTQ+ people in Key West. Or that Fantasy Fest attracts aging, naked swingers and and drag queens are our neighbors. I mean the Tourist Development Council calls Key West “close to perfect; far from normal.”
Key West Pride | Tallahassee’s not amused
But Tallahassee has other ideas and those legislators carrying water for their governor-who-wants-to-be-president are siding with the chaos-culture warriors to bring decency and good taste to Key West.
For the moment, Key West Pride and Fantasy Fest are safe, though probably only because this week Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is photo-opping his way through Japan, South Korea, Israel and Britain. But the legislature’s wrapped-up-and-bow-tied “Protection of Children” bill is sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
(I know, right? I was sure a bill using the words “protection of children” would have something to do with safety. Guns maybe? Requiring lessons in swimming or boating safety? Perhaps a mandate to learn how to ride an e-bike in traffic? But we’re in Florida, where these days we make up catch phrases to confuse the unwary. Hence, Senate Bill 1438 has nothing to do with protecting children.)
The legislation, which goes into effect the day it is signed, can be boiled down to one sentence: If kids are around, doing the stuff of which Fantasy Fest, Pride, Womenfest and drag shows are made is illegal, and whoever allows it can be fined, arrested on criminal charges, shut down and lose licensing, including liquor licenses.
The legislation’s wording is so vaguely slippery that there’s no definition of “child.” I mean, like, are we talking 10-year-olds? Eighteen years in Florida gets you adult status. Twenty-one gets you a beer. Sixteen with parental approval gets you married. Surely, that makes you old enough to do the Duval Crawl during Fantasy Fest without sending its sponsors and creators to court?
I suspect this Orwellian legislation will eventually get tossed, if for no other reason than that it’s so vague it can easily apply to “real men doing drag” charity fundraisers and those gawdawful beauty pageants a la JonBenet Ramsey.
Not to mention its applicability to April 15’s spring gala in Brevard to raise funds for autism. It seems the co-sponsor of this charity gala is the wife of the bill’s sponsor, Randy Fine (R-South Brevard County). The gala bills itself as “an evening filled with sultry performers” and children have attended in the past. Entertainment was by Rainbow Circus Miami, and even a quick glance at their social media pages could make a drag queen drool over the glossy wardrobes.
The problem with this child protection debacle, whether it’s legal or not, is its immediate chilling effect that starts with this: “A governmental entity may not issue a permit or otherwise authorize a person to conduct a performance in violation of s.827.11.”
And, there you go. All those permits the city issues for parades, festivals and such? At least one Florida town has already canceled its Pride parade. The Pride Alliance of the Treasure Coast canceled its parade and limited events to those 21 and older.
Here’s what I’m hoping for Key West: We keep doing us. Pride. Fantasy Fest. Womanfest. Drag shows and all those live-and-let-live things that keep alive the Key West Mystique.