Sarasota – Harvey Milk Festival founder and president Shannon Fortner shares a birthday with the famed activist. She also shares a similar passion for supporting activism and equality for members of the LGBT community and is doing it through music, art and cinema.
The sixth annual Harvey Milk Festival is scheduled for May 14, 15 and 16 in a number of locations in and near downtown Sarasota. The mission of the Harvey Milk Festival is to honor the life of one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. It does so by fostering emerging talent in musicians and artists who support diversity and reject discrimination, the festival’s mission statement reads.
“My motivation for starting the festival was my own experience with LGBTQ discrimination,’ said Fortner. “I was involved in a relationship with a woman from the United Kingdom. While the laws have recently changed so it’s better, at the time immigration laws were not favorable to gay people at all.”
Milk was an American politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Politics and gay activism were not his early interests; he was not open about his homosexuality and did not participate in civic matters until around age 40, after his experiences in the counterculture of the 1960s.
Milk served 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. On Nov. 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back.
Milk’s election was made possible by—and was a key component of—a shift in San Francisco politics. The assassinations and the ensuing events were the result of continuing ideological conflicts in the city.
The first day of the 2015 festival in Sarasota features a film by Wade Gasque entitled Tiger Orange. It serves up a poignant depiction of family dynamics and small town life through the tale of two gay brothers who take very different life paths, but both end up back in the small town where they grew up. The film stars Mark Strano (Out To Kill) and Frankie Valenti (former adult star Johnny Hazzard).
The film is scheduled for screening at the Burns Court Cinema. Tickets are $10 and are available online at HarveyMilkFestival.org.
The second day of the festival is devoted to art. At press time, artists were still submitting portfolios for consideration. The art show will be held at the MillerBrady Gallery and admission is free.
The core of the festival is the music which is featured on the third and final day of the event.
There are 10 bands/groups slated to perform with styles ranging from indie-synth-electro-pop-rock to Southern Goth blues.
“We had 56 submissions to consider so we had a lot of great bands to chose from this year,” said Fortner. “While we have groups from as far away as the United Kingdom, we always try to leave four or five slots open to feature local or regional artists.”
The music festival is scheduled to take place in Five Points Park. Admission to the full day musical entertainment is free.
“While we do pay the bands for their performances, all of our expenses are covered by the participation of our wonderful sponsors and that lets us keep our admission free to the public,” explained Fortner. “We’ve been blessed, the festival has never been in the red.
“We’re also showcasing the ‘I Am Harvey Milk’ project again that I started in 2010,” said Fortner. “A patron can go into a tent, and first they’ll listen to audio of Harvey Milk giving a speech, then they can step onto the soapbox where there will be an outline of Harvey Milk’s shoes and they’ll be able to embrace their inner activist.”
The patron will then be able to take the influence of Milk’s words and speak their own.
“We’ll film and record it and make a short compilation video of everyone’s best quote and it will just show how people embrace moving forward and continuing Harvey Milk’s work,” Fortner said. “And maybe inspire people to even take action themselves.”
Fortner notes that The Harvey Milk Festival supports the mission of ALSO Out Youth to end all forms of violence, harassment and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. ALSO Out Youth’s mission is to enhance self-esteem, promote healthy dialogue, and increase awareness of sexual minority issues.
Last year the festival donated a $1,000 scholarship to ALSO. She hopes it will be even more this year.
“With the coming of marriage equality at long last to Florida, this is definitely a year of celebration,” said Fortner. “I hope that the festival will be a showcase of the values Harvey espoused which were that we need to all recognize and appreciate our differences and work together for the common good. I think Harvey would be proud of this event.”
For an updated schedule for the Harvey Milk Festival visit HarveyMilkFestival.org.