A female impersonator, known as Gina Maseratti, left, and Gary "Trampie" Drews, both of Key West, Fla., compete in the Conch Republic Drag Race in Key West.

A female impersonator, known as Gina Maseratti, left, and Gary "Trampie" Drews, both of Key West, Fla., compete in the Conch Republic Drag Race in Key West.

KEY WEST, Florida Keys — The Conch Republic, more commonly known as Key West and the Florida Keys, is to salute the 28th anniversary of its founding Friday, April 16, through Sunday, April 25.

Traditionally irreverent highlights of the annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration include a “drag” race between female impersonators in startlingly high heels and a lighthearted sea skirmish featuring tall ships in Key West Harbor.

As well as showcasing the independent and eccentric spirit that characterizes the Florida Keys, the celebration benefits a variety of local charitable organizations.

The birth of the Conch Republic was prompted by a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint set up at the head of the Florida Keys so agents could search cars for drugs and illegal aliens. It virtually halted traffic on the only road to the mainland.

Realizing that the island chain was being treated as a foreign country, local officials protested by staging a secession from the U.S. and proclaiming the independent Conch Republic. They waged “war” on the mother country by pelting federal agents with stale Cuban bread, surrendered almost immediately and requested $1 billion in foreign aid.

The Border Patrol checkpoint was removed, but not before the Conch Republic had captured the popular imagination.

As well as the drag race and sea battle, highlights of the 2010 Conch Republic Independence Celebration include the World’s Longest Parade, named because its route down Key West’s Duval Street proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Conch Republic Red Ribbon Bed Race, billed as “the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on.”

Among the other scheduled events are a reception aboard a World War II ship turned floating museum, open-air crafts show and food fest, fiddlers’ contest at the Green Parrot Bar, sailing race commemorating the Keys’ salvaging history and rebirth of a Key West tradition featuring a 7-foot Key lime pie.

For more information and a complete festival schedule, visit www.conchrepublic.com. For lodging information in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-LAST-KEY (800-527-8539) or visit www.fla-keys.com.

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