Richard Heyman moved to Key West in 1973 and helped transform a crumbling Navy town into a gay mecca. He bought real estate on the island and opened an art gallery representing many gay artists including a younger, attractive New Yorker named John Kiraly.
By 1979, less than a decade later, Key West had become one of the most gay-friendly cities in America and the hottest gay tourism destination in the world. That year, fearing an anti-gay crusade sweeping the country, a group of gay men growing wealthy from gay tourism convinced Heyman to run for the city commission. After winning the election and serving four years as a commissioner, Heyman ran for mayor in 1983, the same year his life-partner and at least eight other gay men living in Key West were diagnosed with a mysterious new disease.
But Heyman’s mayoral campaign sparked a vicious anti-gay backlash. In response, after the election, Mayor Heyman distanced himself politically from the gay community. Within 10 years, half of all the gay men living in Key West, including Heyman, would be dead.