“We’ve nearly doubled every year,” she said. “The first year we had around 1,200 people come out, and the second year we went up to about 2,500 people. Last year we moved to Five Points, because I wanted it to be in a more central location where we could really celebrate, and we ended up having about 5,000 people. I don’t know if we’ll double that number this year, but who knows, maybe.”
The three-day music and arts festival culminating with a day-long street festival May 18 is a celebration of California politician Harvey Milk who, in 1977, was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office. Fortner says that the main goal of the festival is to get community members involved and hopefully continue Milk’s work.
“We’re launching the I Am Harvey Milk project again that I started in 2010,” she said. “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 basically 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, and maybe inspire people to even take action themselves.”
Fortner got the idea for the festival in 2010 when then-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that there would be a Harvey Milk Day.
“It was mainly just California that was doing events for it and some vigils and other small things scattered around across the country,” she said. “So I contacted and spoke with an event organizer in California and explained that I wanted to organize a huge music festival with art and things like that to be a part of the Harvey Milk Day celebration, and they were very supportive. I then had maybe about a month to organize it.”
Calling on friends and community members, Fortner worked tirelessly to get the event up-and-running, and was happy to see the support and embracement from the community.
“They just ran with it, they totally embraced it and were ecstatic to be a part of it,” she said.
Fortner’s passion and dedication to the cause is not only admirable, but almost cosmic when you consider one interesting piece of trivia.
“I share a birthday with Harvey Milk,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a crazy connection.”
And though it is a daunting task to organize the event, each year she seeks to expand and grow not only the festival, but it’s level of involvement in the community.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of sleepless nights,” said Fortner. “The second year I registered us as a non-profit, and the third year we became a 501-c3. We’re even talking about doing a scholarship for LGBT youth, so that’s something we are trying to work towards now, just to keep growing and getting others involved.”
In addition, Fortner feels that this year has an especially important significance.
“We just had Rhode Island and New England pass marriage equality, so I feel like this is just a really important year and I hope that we get a lot of people that want to come out and celebrate with us,” she said.
And this year’s events promise to be fun for all ages.
“We have a guest speaker from ALSO Youth , a candlelight vigil, and we’re trying to unite and get more organizations involved and trying to get kids involved,” said Fortner. “I’m hoping that with this being such a momentous year, this festival will help show people that we are the movement, and we are the ones that are making things change, and that we can make others open their eyes.”
WHAT: Harvey Milk Festival
WHEN: May 16-18
From our media partner WatermarkZach Caruso