Metro Weekly

Island House Staff Says “Keep Key West Gay”

Island House, a gay clothing-optional resort in Key West, recently posted a video begging LGBTQ tourists to visit Florida.

The “Keep Key West Gay” promotional video – Photo: Island House Key West, via Vimeo

The staff of Island House, a popular gay-targeted, clothing-optional resort in Key West, recently appeared in a promotional ad, pleading with travelers and potential customers not to follow through on threats to boycott Florida in response to a spate of anti-LGBTQ measures signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The video, titled “Keep Key West Gay,” largely focuses on Island House, but features cameos by representatives from other LGBTQ-owned and -operated businesses in Key West, warning that any refusals to travel to and patronize businesses in Florida ultimately hurt the LGBTQ community there.

As you probably know, there’s been a recent amped-up fear of travel to Florida in our community,” the ad’s narrator says. “And boy, did we get it. Toxic politicians with self-serving agendas will always sell you fear instead of hope. And it’s natural to want to do something in response.”

Island House’s promotional ad alludes to, but does not directly mention, recent actions viewed by many in the LGBTQ community as hostile.

Aided and abetted by his fellow Republicans serving in the Florida Legislature, Gov. DeSantis has successfully rammed through several bills targeting the LGBTQ community under the guise of targeting “wokeness” or protecting children from being exposed to LGBTQ content, which Republicans have claimed is a form of “sexualization” or “indoctrination.”

It should also be noted that both of the elected representatives of Key West — State Rep. Jim Mooney (R-Islamadora) and State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) — voted for almost every one of those measures.

National LGBTQ advocacy organizations have alleged that Florida is no longer welcoming or safe enough for members of the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign even declared a “state of emergency” for LGBTQ people in Florida and issued a travel advisory to LGBTQ people.

That travel advisory, and fears of a potential future boycott, have led some LGBTQ business owners to fear that decisions to avoid traveling to Florida may drain them of tourist dollars and hurt their overall financial well-being.

With that in mind, the Island House ad seeks to play on the emotions of would-be LGBTQ tourists by touting the city’s LGBTQ history.

Our community has been visibly united for almost 60 years. Well before the rainbow flag was even created. So why would we back down now?” the ad’s narrator says.

The ad invokes the Stonewall Riots, the millions of deaths of LGBTQ people at the height of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, and even the passage of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 — all negative, but real milestones in LGBTQ history — to demonstrate the LGBTQ community’s tenacity and its success in overcoming obstacles to full lived equality. 

“Our community is stronger than any toxic politician would like you to believe,” the narrator continues. “Come support your community here in Florida.”

The ad concludes, “We’re going to ‘Keep Key West Gay.’ Right here at Island House — the best gay resort in the world.”

It’s unclear whether the ad’s message will resonate widely, or what its precise impact will be.

In part, that is because Florida remains — and will likely remain — a major travel destination for tourists, as well as a state where many people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, choose to retire due to the state’s natural beauty, its tropical weather, and lack of an individual income tax.

Additionally, many international cruises, especially those that traverse the Caribbean, Central America, and South America launch and dock in Florida — meaning it is difficult to avoid even temporarily staying in Florida.

The interesting choice of the slogan to “Keep Key West Gay” comes at a time when Island House is currently enmeshed in a legal fight with Amina Chaudhry, a woman who filed a discrimination complaint alleging that she was discriminated against when she attempted to rent a room inside the resort complex.

Under its current policy, Island House only allows men to rent rooms inside the resort complex or access clothing-optional areas, but does rent units outside the main complex to women, who — under a negotiated agreement — are permitted to use the pool and amenities at nearby gym or resort facilities.

Chaudhry recently scored a victory against the New Orleans House, a rival gay-centric, clothing-optional resort. An administrative law judge found that the resort’s restrictions on female guests are discriminatory.

Some people could argue that the complaints filed against resorts with sex-segregated spaces constitute an attack on the community and an effort to “erase” the “gay” identity of places like Island House, making the anti-boycott ad’s central slogan all the more ironic.

As to whether LGBTQ tourists will heed Island House’s plea — and whether, even if they travel to Florida, they’ll specifically travel to Key West and patronize local businesses there — only time will tell. 

Watch the full video below: 

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