Harvey Milk Festival Organizer Commemorates Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Arts & Culture

After over a year of bad news and obstacles overcome, Shannon Fortner, like many, has become quite adept at rolling with the punches. Last year’s Harvey Milk Festival, which she founded and presides over, had to scramble to reconfigure its programming—and that was on top of navigating the economic downturn that saw many in the service industry, like Fortner, hit hardest.

And even as things ease back to normal with tomorrow’s Harvey Milk Festival performances at the downtown farmer’s market—which commemorates the 5th-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 49 members of the LGBTQ+ community were murdered—the punches keep coming.

The timing of recent legislation signed into law by Governor DeSantis certainly feels like one of those punches. “He stood on hallowed ground in 2016 and promised he would always support those impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting,” says Fortner, “but then he just pulled funding and support for the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month.” Fortner refers to SB 1028, a bill that makes it illegal for transgender girls to participate in sports consistent with their identity. Florida also struck funding from its budget that would have gone towards mental health services for survivors of the Pulse shooting.

Add to that the Florida Department of Transportation’s recent denial of the City of Sarasota’s request to light the Ringling Causeway in rainbow colors, and the context of tomorrow’s farmer’s market performances feel all the more serious.

“We started the festival to be a platform where folks could be supported to speak out,” says Fortner, “and our focus is still to create safe spaces for our community.”

Tomorrow’s event features music from 3rd year music major Aniston Hoffman, as well as dance and spoken word performances from Jess Pope and Gabby Keusch. “I’m really excited for all of the performers, obviously,” says Fortner, “but Jess’s and Gabby’s work will be a sneak peak into what we have planned for our two week festival in the Fall.”

Pope, a Ringling College graduate working towards an MFA in Visual Art, will share the stage with Keusch, who loops her voice to create ritualistic soundscapes. Together, they hope to offer up a performance prayer of sorts to honor the victims of the Pulse shooting and bring solemn awareness to the LGBTQA+ community’s continued struggle for equality.

“The arts are a catalyst for change,” says Fortner, “and I think events like this are an important part of the solution.”

The performances begin at 9am. A Pride march across the Ringling Causeway is scheduled for 6pm.

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