The Queer Keys board of directors: Front row: Janiece Rodriguez and Chris McNulty. Back row from left: Jobie Jacomine, Jasmine Kenna, Baires Serrano, Fritzie Estimond. CONTRIBUTED

Equality Florida, the statewide civil rights organization that fights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, will honor a group of local activists at an event in Key West on Friday, Feb. 23.

Queer Keys, founded in 2021 to support and unite the region’s LGBTQ community, deserves the spotlight at this year’s Equality Florida Key West celebration, the statewide nonprofit said. 

“Queer Keys has become a beacon of hope and empowerment for LGBTQ individuals and their allies,” Equality Florida said in a statement.

The event is set Friday, Feb. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hugh’s View, the rooftop venue at The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St.

Admission is free and open to the public, but the event is limited to 100 people due to space. Guests are asked to RSVP in advance on Equality Florida’s website at eqfl.org.

Chris McNulty and Janiece Rodriguez, who founded Queer Keys, will accept the award on behalf of the group’s board of directors. 

“It lets us know we are making an impact on a local level that is having a ripple effect beyond our island,” McNulty told Keys Weekly. “We are incredibly grateful for the recognition, and we look forward to building on the work that we are being recognized for.” (McNulty also writes the Keys Weekly horoscopes each week.)

The two created the nonprofit shortly after moving to Key West upon learning the island didn’t have a true queer community center. 

They started out using space at a local church to host programs for young people. Now, almost three years later, they’ve signed a lease on their own headquarters at 1100 Truman Ave. 

Volunteers have been painting and building out the space and plan to open it as a community center once they get through the city’s permitting process, which could take several months, the group said in an announcement on social media.

Queer Keys, whose slogan is “Love is love, community is everything,” has hosted two successful fundraising shows at the Key West Theater to build the program. 

While the group has appeared at events such as Key West’s annual Pride parade, Queer Keys focuses on organizing services and resources for locals in need of help. Its members also have hosted youth groups for both support and fun. At one meetup, they all baked homemade bread. 

Their goal has always been to create a center in Key West, complete with a community garden and a space for gatherings. At the same time, it would be a center where they could offer mental health services, free STI testing and other programs. 

“We are thrilled to celebrate the incredible work of Queer Keys and its visionary co-founders, Chris McNulty and Janiece Rodriguez,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.

“Their dedication to safeguarding LGBTQ rights and preserving an inclusive, thriving environment for LGBTQ youth in Monroe County is the leadership our state needs from this community,” Smith said.

Rodriguez said she’s excited about the recognition, but remains focused on the current struggles transgender people are facing in Florida. 

“I would like people to know that trans folks across Florida are going through a very challenging and scary time and the work is far from done,” Rodriguez told Keys Weekly. 

Also at the Feb. 23 event, Equality Florida’s deputy director Stratton Pollitzer will present a recap of the group’s work last year and take questions about current issues facing LGBTQ people. 

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.