Parade participants carry a 100-foot section of the massive pride flag. In 2003, the entire flag made its first appearance, stretching the entire length of Duval Street.

About 39 years ago a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient from the Vietnam War protested against the United States military’s policy on gay servicemen. Leonard Matlovich was discharged from the Air Force after he refused to sign a statement pledging he would “never practice homosexuality again.” He took it to court and eventually won some five years later. Shortly after, at the age of 44 in 1988, he died of AIDS. His legacy carried on.

Since then, the U.S. has come a long way with sexual equality and Key West has been a leading model of “One Human Family” — from starting arguably the first LGBT friendly Business Guild to having a Veterans of Foreign Wars club that welcomes members of the gay community with open arms.

At the this year’s annual Key West Pride (June 11-15), the VFW is hosting a meet and greet with openly gay Iraq veteran and author Rob Smith of “Closets, Combat and Coming OUT.” The event will be on Friday, June 13 at 6 p.m.

Smith said he is honored to be a part of Pride and serve as the parade Grand Marshal.

“I am counting down the days until I get to Key West. It is an honor to be asked to do a book signing at the VFW and I am humbled. It feels like progress. It is a testament of what can happen when we act together,” said Smith, noting his book was a small part of a huge movement.  “Events like gay marriage rights are specific cases, and times do change, and we can win. I don’t take too much credit because there are hundreds of people fighting with different goals.”

He did mention a few things he wanted to do on the island.

“I am looking forward to a sunset cruise and am a big fan of the open water. I know Pride is going to be fun … I look forward on going to the beach and finding a nice pair of trunks. Key West truly is a piece of paradise,” said Smith.

Matt Hon is the event coordinator and has read Smith’s book from cover to cover.

“For first time ever we have an active joint military color guard that will be escorting the parade. It is huge news,” said Hon with enthusiasm. “.Last year was the first year the VFW participated and it was a statement. And they were the first group to turn in paperwork this year.”

Aside from the book signing at the VFW, there are more than 30 events going on around town. Pride would not be complete without a parade, which is another highlight of the four-day event.

“We are going to carry a 100-foot section on the two-kilometer flag that went across Key West in 2003,” said Hon. “In recent years, families have been coming to the parade and that never used to happen before.”

Pride isn’t just a regional event. From its roots in the mid-70s, the event is proven to have a national and international draw.

“We have some gentlemen that come down from Indiana and last year a lot of Asians attended,” said Hon.

He mentioned some of the top events people look forward too.

“Friday evening there is Mr. Pride, Ms. Pride and the crowning of the participants to wear the crown. The tutu-relay starts at Higgs Beach, Saturday, June 14, in which participants wear rainbow tutus, also the gay straight alliance and we are bringing the ‘Fag Bug’ back (a rainbow painted Volkswagen Bug that reads Fag Bug on the side doors.)”

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