My friend’s young daughter once asked me, “Greg, why are men and women so different?” And I answered, “How boring life would be if everyone was the same!” She then replied, “You are so right.”

Key West Pride Parade

Key West Pride offers a wonderful and fun-filled chance to celebrate inclusion, acceptance and community. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

I had hidden my differences for many years before coming out as an openly gay man. However, I can now revel in my differences and see them as advantages.

Maybe that’s one reason I always look forward to our island’s Key West Pride events — which will take place June 7-11 this year. Our island’s Pride festivities are not just about parties and parades, although there is certainly no lack of them. The celebration also offers visitors a chance to experience Key West’sOne Human Family” atmosphere of inclusion and recognition that all people are created equal.

The 2017 schedule features pool parties, nightly drag shows and aquatic adventures including snorkeling, kayaking and sunset sails. Plus attendees can enjoy a Pride-themed street fair on famed Duval Street, a one-of-a-kind trolley tour documenting the LGBT community’s impact on Key West history and culture, a burlesque show with an LGBT flair, and a lively brunch served with a drag show on the side.

Tennessee Williams exhibit Key West

During Pride, visitors can enjoy curator-led tours of the Tennessee Williams Key West exhibit. (Photo by Mike Freas, Florida Keys News Bureau)

And don’t miss fascinating curator-led tours of an exhibit chronicling legendary playwright Tennessee Williams’ decades on the island.

Contests bring even more excitement to the five-day festival — including pageants to select Mr. and Miss Key West Pride.

Festival highlights include the 2017 Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic’s Wednesday night Pride kick-off gala. The all-welcome event, a top locals’ favorite, is held from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Island House Resort at 1129 Fleming St. The hunky hotel staff will be serving up scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and bottomless libations for all attendees.

The Stoli schedule continues with Friday night’s contestant runoffs and Saturday night’s final round. The high-profile contest’s Key West component features regional winners from LGBT bars in 17 North American cities — all competing to create an original Key West cocktail that reflects the island’s creativity and spirit. Now in its fourth year, the challenge is North America’s largest annual LGBT bartender competition.

Stoli’s National LGBT Brand Manager, Patrik Gallineaux, appears with previous Key West Cocktail Classic winner Matthew Mello.

Saturday’s big daytime event will be our Key West Pride Street Fair held in the 700 through 900 blocks of Duval Street (an area locals have dubbed the Gay Triangle).

This Key West tradition is always a crowd pleaser with endless shopping, great “eats,” and entertainment that will certainly jump-start you back into Pride Party Mode.

Saturday evening’s lineup includes the final Stoli Classic round at 7 p.m. on an open-air stage in the 700 block of Duval.

Stoli USA’s national LGBT ambassador Patrik Gallineaux will be hosting, with a panel of celebrities on hand to judge the dueling bartenders. You never know when you might bump into your favorite celebrity and get a fabulous photo sure to cause your friends to have “social media envy.”

Key West Pride Parade

The all-welcome parade is a lively and colorful highlight of each year’s Key West Pride. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

The winning bartender will be the honorary grand marshal of the 2017 Pride Parade on Sunday, June 11. The all-welcome parade features a 100-foot section of Key West’s famed 1.25-mile-long sea-to-sea rainbow flag, created in 2003 by the late Gilbert Baker. It should start around 5 p.m. or so (we call it “Island Time”) and proceed up Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

Afterwards, Pride participants can attend Stoli’s official after-parade party at La Te Da (located at 1125 Duval St.), home of Key West’s renowned Sunday Tea Dance.

If you’re planning to celebrate Pride this year, definitely do it in Key West. Where else can you see a section of one of the world’s most iconic rainbow flags, witness the “crowning” of an international LGBT bartender star, and honor the differences that make our community so vibrant?

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