'Drag Race' Kicks Off Annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration in Key West

The festival runs until Sunday, April 28th.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Neon-colored dresses, lace-up boots and sky-high tresses served as the official attire for the competitors in Key West's 'Drag Race.' Female impersonators competed in the race, which was a part of the island's annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration. (Published Sunday, Apr 21, 2013)

    Neon-colored dresses, lace-up boots and sky-high tresses served as the official attire for the competitors in Key West's Great Conch Republic Drag Race Saturday.

    Drag queens competed in time trials and multiple heats that included an obstacle course of car tires and riding or pushing shopping carts down Duval Street.

    The race was hosted by the Bourbon Street Complex as part of the island's annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration. The 10-day festival commemorates the Key's 1982 secession from the United States.

    "Many of the events are fundraisers for local non-profit organizations," said Carol Shaughnessy, with the Florida Keys News Bureau. "But they all have a beautifully wacky Key West twist."

    Shaughnessy said the organizers agreed the festivities needed a drag race, but they didn't want to race cars down Duval Street. The obvious solution? Racing drag queens.

    "It's regarded as both bizarre and wonderful," she said.

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    The humorous take on the race reflects the history behind the festival. In 1982, the Keys staged a secession from the United States after federal officials created a road block going into the islands, Shaughnessy said. Authorities were checking for illegal immigrants, but the inconvenient road block was keeping visitors away.

    Keys civic leaders discovered that the only place a road block to detain immigrants could be installed was on the border of a foreign country, so they staged the lighthearted secession and declared themselvess the Conch Republic, complete with a flag, passports and its own uniformed officers.

    After carrying out an act of war - hitting a Navy officer over the head with a loaf of stale Cuban bread - the Conch Republic surrendered and demanded a billion dollars in foreign aid.

    The festival will run until Sunday, April 28th and will include events such as the annual 'bloody battle' at sea in which ships engage in a heated skirmish that involves throwing water balloons, Cuban bread and vegetables at each other.

    "We're such a lively kind of eccentric, exuberant kind of group," Shaughnessy said. "You've got the historic tall ships which are just magnificent. The dichotomy is so much fun."

    Planning on attending the festival? Send your photos to isee@nbc6.com and they could show up online.