Board of Directors & AMBASsADORS

                                                       Shannon Fortner

Shannon Fortner

(SHE/THEY) Executive Director & Founder

Shannon has always felt a special connection with political icon Harvey Milk, who has inspired her activism in the human & civil rights movement, and driven her to use her passion in the arts as a catalyst for change in her hometown community of Sarasota. In 2009, Shannon organized The Equal Civil Rights Rally and began to fight for equality both on a state and federal level. One year later she founded The Harvey Milk Festival after California announced the declaration of Harvey Milk Day in April of 2010 to honor one of  our country’s first openly gay politicians. Shannon has built The Harvey Milk Festival from the ground up and continues to diligently expand the organization’s impact  and community involvement every year. As Creative Director and President, Shannon develops and manages, along with the HMF Board of Directors, every facet of the festival with grace and vigor.

                                                                Mason Gallo

Mason Gallo

(HE/THEY) VP, Board Member

Mason Gallo is a queer-identified transman activist and leader. His activism journey started at a young age. In high school, he volunteered as an HIV and AIDS peer educator in 1994 for the public-school system in Flint, Michigan. Since then, his extensive leadership background has played an integral part in the LGBTQIA+ community by continuing to participate and volunteer for various organizations. He works as a leader in the healthcare industry while attending the University of South Florida, St.Petersburg, pursuing a degree in psychology and leadership. In 2018, he was nominated and selected to take part in the Transgender Leadership Summit for Equality Florida. He recently started a Tampa Bay queer book club and is working towards the creation of a Tampa Bay queer social meetup to assist in creating safe spaces for queers to unite. Mason is an outspoken advocate for the Transgender community and provides outreach and education by partnering with universities and organizations to share his story of transitioning. He extends outreach
to be visible for those who are unable to do so. Malcolm X once said, “We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience
creates unity.” For Mason, being visible is all about spreading the light. Light about trans lives and experiences to create a world that is more loving, patient, and united.
                                                           George Hemcher

George Hemcher

(HE/HIM) Board Member

Maestro George Hemcher, a native of Frazer, PA, has been with Sarasota Opera since June 2017.

At Delaware Valley Opera, he worked on Verdi’s Otello, Mozart’s Die Entführung Aus Am Serail, and was the Music Director for Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate and Mozart’s Der Shauspieldirektor. Mr. Hemcher has also collaborated with Pocket Opera of New York, Regina Opera in Brooklyn, Light Opera of New York, eVoco Voice Collective Mixed and Women’s Ensemble, Voci da Camera, Oyster Bay Music Festival, and Floating Opera New York.  As a tenor, George has sung Dr. Blind in Die Fledermaus, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Spärlich in Nicolai’s Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Fiorello, the Officer, Ambrosius in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and El Remendado in Carmen.

George has played piano for Distinguished Concerts International New York on the world premiere of Cristian Grases Nocturnos y Adivinanzas at Carnegie Hall as well as Steven Sametz’ Carmina Amoris, Donald McCullough’s In the Shadow of the Holocaust, Zane Zalis’ I believe, Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, Tim Sharp/Wes Ramsey’s A High, Lonesome Bluegrass Mass, the Verdi Requiem, and Tarik O’Regan’s Tryptich and The Ecstasies Above. George was the Music Director at Venture Opera in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the OPERA America Recital Hall and at the Kay Meek Center in Vancouver, Canada. Previously George was the Music Director of the Opera Scenes program at Hofstra University.

                                                            Andrew Ensign

Andrew Ensign

(HE/THEY) Board Member

  Harvey Milk Festival is seeking new Board Members that support our mission and believe in community.                                       Email:



                                                                Grace Korley

Grace Korley

(SHE,HER) Queer BIPOC Initiative Coordinator, Grant Writer, Intern Coordinator

Grace Korley is a student, teacher, advocate, partner, friend. Grace has an educational background in Women’s and Gender Studies, English Literature, and is working toward a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in Winter Park, Fl. She is a long-time activist and volunteer with Harvey Milk Festival.  Grace is a native of Lakeland, Fl and  frequently travels between Winter Park and Sarasota, Fl. 

Michael Murphy (He/him)

Jo Falconer

Jo Falconer



  Harvey Milk Festival is seeking new Board Members that support our mission and believe in community.                                       Email:


Who Is harvey Milk?

Harvey Bernard Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) was an American politician who became one of the first openly gay politicians 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 moved from New York City to settle in San Francisco in 1972 amid a migration of gay men to the Castro District. He took advantage of the growing political and economic power of the neighborhood to promote his interests, and ran unsuccessfully for political office three times. His theatrical campaigns earned him increasing popularity, and Milk won a seat as a city supervisor in 1977, part of the broader social changes the city was experiencing.

Milk served 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city 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.

Despite his short career in politics, Milk became an icon in San Francisco and “a martyr for gay rights”, according to University of San Francisco professor Peter Novak. In 2002, Milk was called “the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States”. Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote of him: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.” Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.



Our Youth OUtreach Program


The HMF Youth Outreach program provides the opportunity to get youth more involved with the organization. The HMF Youth Outreach Program began in 2014 with the launch of our youth scholarship program.
This opportunity is open to all LGBTQ+ students in Sarasota County between the ages of 13 and 25.

Youth internship positions for graphic design, videography, community outreach, and nonprofit development.

Two internships and two scholarships are available per year.
Scholarship one, $500- 1,000
Scholarship two, $500- $1,000
Internship one, award of $500-$1000
Internship two, award $500-$1000

Applications will be released six months prior to the main festival and submissions will be
accepted until three months prior to the festival. Programming will run throughout the year and
culminate in Harvey Milk Festival programming in May.

This project directly impacts the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth by
offering preparedness for college through fellowship and community service experience.
The most significant benefit to participants in the HMF Youth Outreach Program is the
encouragement and financial support that youth are given to continue their education. The
program provides a creative outlet for LGBTQ+ youth to cultivate their artistic process and
connect with others in the community.Many of our youth have experienced alienation and
discrimination from family, friends and schoolmates and lack the essential network of support
they need when they are in school.

The HMF Scholarship and HMF Internship programs offer
participating youth opportunities to connect with the LGBTQ+ community through their work,
receive feedback from youth, artists, mentors and allies, and further their professional
development with support and encouragement from their community.

For further inquiry, contact


Community Partnerships


The Harvey Milk Festival  has partnered with these organizations.

ALSO Youth, Array Youth, Prism Youth Initiative 

                                                                                                                                                                                    Visit Sarasota,  New College of Florida,  Jewish Federation of Sarasota & Manatee

Manatee Pride, The Community Foundation of Sarasota, Gulf coast Community Foundation,

  WSLR,  and more.

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