Jan 092015

by JD Adler

Fantasy Fest


Commissioner Rossi and Mayor Cates

Since 1979, Key West has hosted an annual bacchanal called Fantasy Fest.  Initiated as an attempt to draw tourists, it has by that measure been wildly successful. Tourists and locals alike revel in the opportunity for open celebration every year. Vendors and the marketers rake in significant stacks of cash.  It also has its detractors, and every few years the calls for reform rise to a crescendo. Another tide of reform appears to be rising this year. This last successfully occurred in 1992, resulting in the establishment of the “Fantasy Zone” one block to either side of Duval Street set aside for the hedonistic behavior.

The Good, the Bad and the Naked

It was Harry Bethel, then City Commissioner, who led the move for reform in 92 and again this year though he proudly declares he has never attended the festival. Having organized his own public meeting in November, the city followed up with a commission meeting dedicated to this subject on January 8th which drew 24 people, not including city employees and commission members.  Though he is not the only voice for reform, the Key West Fest Friends led by Kathy Watkins have initiated a project of their own. Bethel is demanding a hard line, wherein law enforcement would engage in mass arrests to intimidate future tourists who “come here to do what they wouldn’t do in their own home town.”  The Fest Friends, on the other hand are targeting the marketing and promotions for reform. Watkins sees messaging like “leave your inhibitions at home,” as the reason the festival has become less about costuming and more about nudity and sex.

Its my understanding that you can’t have you’re pichullino painted in public.

– Commissioner Yaniz on public nudity laws

The commission, for its part, listened to both parties and then spent a great deal of time discussing the current status of the event. Which provided far less clarity than one would expect. It was generally agreed that it is illegal, even during Fantasy Fest, to be naked in public. The commissioners also agreed that the KWPD, and the 4 other law enforcement organizations which support it during the festival, do an excellent job. The public was assured that the police arrest any violators of nudity laws that they see. Which Chief Lee said was 2 or 3 individuals in 2014.

However the reason for the meeting in the first place was that large numbers of the public disagree with that assessment. Almost every citizen has multiple anecdotes of witnessing public nudity and/or sex during the festival.  Chief Lee himself told me that he feels his orders from civilian authority are “murky”, though he also stated they have never been told to ignore legal statuettes for the festival.  But he is being asked to patrol a city sponsored event which actively promotes violations of the laws he is being asked to enforce.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger?

The company in charge of promotions, Market Share, does post information about the legal limits of behavior. However they also utilize slogans which tell people “fun lovers from around the globe leave their children and inhibitions behind as they descend upon Key West each year…” It also promotes a ten day festival, while being contracted for two. According to Commissioner Weekley, this apparently developed organically as a result of the inn keepers establishing a 5 day minimum on their guests. So there appears to be mixed messages originating from those responsible for communications.

The overall tone of the meeting was one of mild reform. The majority of the commissioners appeared to favor the Key West Fest Friends’ suggestion of altering the message in order to target a different audience and have scheduled a meeting among the principal stakeholders.  However, as Commissioner Lopez said, “I don’t think anyone is expecting any promises, we just want to see some work being done.”



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JD Adler
JD Adler is an author of fiction and journalism, holding degrees in English Literature and Publication Management. He has authored non-fiction books and science fiction novels as well as short stories and poetry. As a journalist he has covered national elections, environmental business, criminal trials, and local news.

JD's creative work can be viewed at jdadler.com
 January 9, 2015  Posted by at 7:07 am * Featured Story *, Issue #96, JD Adler  Add comments

  4 Responses to “What The Fest?”

  1. Harry Bethel has arranged for the Commissioners to have a workshop to discuss Fantasy Fest. I do not think that the public nudity has gotten any worse, albeit pictures are easier to find on the internet. The Garden of Eden is still showing videos from 2004 because of the decrease in nudity of late. I agree with you that folks like Harry who are easily offended should do as Harry does and stay away. Of course that begs the question that since Harry doesn’t come to Fantasy Fest, why does he feel the need to add restrictions to the event.

    As a business owner, I am very afraid of changes to the festival. Sex sells. If thousands of people want to come here for ten days and spend their money, we should take it. Fantasy Fest puts those who want to show off topless, scantily clad, or body painted with those who want to look at them, and a lot of us in town make a significant amount of money. I fear that Harry would make us another Daytona Beach, who cleaned up spring break and now have nothing.

    It still surprises me that Key West is the prude capital of Monroe County. The rest of the county relies of the state’s public decency laws, but we have our own ordinance which technically criminalizes most bikini swimwear, and many elegant women’s dresses. Our ordinance already prohibits exposed genitals. What more do we need? Personally, I think our ordinance is overbroad and would argue such in court. Overbroad laws are unenforcable because they leave the setting of public standards to individual police officers rather than our elected representatives.

    It would be reasonable to repeal our ordinance completely and rely on the state statute, however to avoid naked people shopping at Publix, the city ordinance could be amended to only prohibit public exposures of genitalia.

    As Donnie Lee told the Commissioners, when Commissioner Weekly proposed limiting the Fantasy Zone, give us a standard and we will enforce it. With the existing law so strict that it cannot be enforced, the police are forced to develop their own standard, such as “no bare nipples on the street.” The City Commission needs to show some political courage and leadership and relax the law so that the police can enforce it.

  2. This is simple, either you want tourist or you don’t. Have you forgot why Fantasy Fest was created ? We have been visiting Key West since 73 and spend thousands each year because we love the party town. To anyone who dislikes FF then simply don’t go for that 10 days. Don’t fix what is not broke. I see very little little nudity at FF. Read the laws you already have and you have no problem. As long as not showing sex organs the law is not broke. Take the time to learn what is or is not a sex organ. Personally we think Key West police do a fine job at Fantasy Fest. Yes if totally nude they need arrested. FF is not a place to bring kids because it is an adult event. If people bring kids then exspect to see everything. It will not hurt them to see a few breasts or butts. You want the money but not the people. Well it does not work that way. FF is one of your biggest sources of income so be carefull of what you do to it. Without the money made at FF many of your busnisses will go broke. Just maybe it is Harry that should leave. How can he condem what he has not seen ? If you want a ghost town listen to him.

  3. If it’s illegal, even during Fantasy Fest, to be naked in public, then it is illegal to be naked in public in the United States of America, straight from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. To get the message through, Key West really may as well just have the FBI patrolling the entire fest, doing all of the arrests and carting away, and warning all partygoers that public nudity is a Federal crime, straight from Washington, DC, not a municipal (Key West city law) crime.

    • The 2014 Florida Statutes
      CHAPTER 800
      800.02 Unnatural and lascivious act.
      800.03 Exposure of sexual organs.
      800.04 Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age.
      800.05 Forfeiture of retirement benefits for a felony defined in s. 800.04.
      800.09 Lewd or lascivious exhibition in the presence of an employee.
      800.02 Unnatural and lascivious act.—A person who commits any unnatural and lascivious act with another person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. A mother’s breastfeeding of her baby does not under any circumstance violate this section.
      History.—s. 1, ch. 7361, 1917; RGS 5425; CGL 7568; s. 778, ch. 71-136; s. 2, ch. 93-4.
      800.03 Exposure of sexual organs.—It is unlawful to expose or exhibit one’s sexual organs in public or on the private premises of another, or so near thereto as to be seen from such private premises, in a vulgar or indecent manner, or to be naked in public except in any place provided or set apart for that purpose. Violation of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. A mother’s breastfeeding of her baby does not under any circumstance violate this section.
      History.—s. 1, ch. 7360, 1917; RGS 5445; CGL 7588; s. 1, ch. 61-51; s. 779, ch. 71-136; s. 3, ch. 93-4.
      800.04 Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age.—
      (1) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section:
      (a) “Sexual activity” means the oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object; however, sexual activity does not include an act done for a bona fide medical purpose.
      (b) “Consent” means intelligent, knowing, and voluntary consent, and does not include submission by coercion.
      (c) “Coercion” means the use of exploitation, bribes, threats of force, or intimidation to gain cooperation or compliance.
      (d) “Victim” means a person upon whom an offense described in this section was committed or attempted or a person who has reported a violation of this section to a law enforcement officer.
      (2) PROHIBITED DEFENSES.—Neither the victim’s lack of chastity nor the victim’s consent is a defense to the crimes proscribed by this section.
      (3) IGNORANCE OR BELIEF OF VICTIM’S AGE.—The perpetrator’s ignorance of the victim’s age, the victim’s misrepresentation of his or her age, or the perpetrator’s bona fide belief of the victim’s age cannot be raised as a defense in a prosecution under this section.
      (a) A person commits lewd or lascivious battery by:
      1. Engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age; or
      2. Encouraging, forcing, or enticing any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sadomasochistic abuse, sexual bestiality, prostitution, or any other act involving sexual activity.
      (b) Except as provided in paragraph (c), an offender who commits lewd or lascivious battery commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
      (c) A person commits a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084 if the person is an offender 18 years of age or older who commits lewd or lascivious battery and was previously convicted of a violation of:
      1. Section 787.01(2) or s. 787.02(2) when the violation involved a victim who was a minor and, in the course of committing that violation, the defendant committed against the minor a sexual battery under chapter 794 or a lewd act under this section or s. 847.0135(5);
      2. Section 787.01(3)(a)2. or 3.;
      3. Section 787.02(3)(a)2. or 3.;
      4. Chapter 794, excluding s. 794.011(10);
      5. Section 825.1025;
      6. Section 847.0135(5); or”

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