Me & Harvey 4: Finally, the Day Itself!

You’ve been very patient, Readers! I just had to engage with what’s happening in Toronto with Pride. Other than Chicago Pride in the ’80s, TO Pride has been such an inspiration that it takes a lot of hard swallowing (I have no idea if a pun is intended there; it’s nap time) to accept the decisions that have been made. But accept and resist, we must.

Saturday, May 22 is Harvey Milk Festival Day! The v’teers must’ve arrived two hours before I do. They are all bustling by on foot and skateboard, we slap hands as they whiz by; some have time for a hug, others are as amazed at the doings as me. Kelly Kirschner, Sarasota Mayor, is due to speak from the Main Stage at 1. Trust me, as an American who is shunned by his government yet embraced on every level by a foreign one, I know how rare it is that a city would issues a proclamation in honour of the Harvey Milk Festival.

It’s just about 1 now and it’s that strange moment in event prep where finishing touches are being added, kegs tapped and T-shirts straightened on event tables. Early attendees are gently moving around the displays inspired by the energy.

I wander around the booths, spend a load of money on HMF t-shirts(Get one of those while you can, they’re real sweet!) meet the folks and some kids from ALSO (to which the day’s proceeds were being donated) and get a fancy V.I.P. bracelet at the I.D. table. As I am doing that, Mayor Kirschner takes the mic and I dart closer so I can get all of the love. Tanned, thirty-five, easy-on-the-eyes – looks like a young pro golfer.

Kirschner spoke of several things but the one that leapt out at me was when he said (paraphrased): Look, American cities have to step up to the plate. Study after study has demonstrated that economic, cultural and wellness go hand in hand with treating LGBTQ communities with open arms. Those that welcome and accept, prosper. Those that don’t, suffer. And we’re seeing that all across the country.

He carried on reading the rather long proclamation and presenting it to Festival Organizer Shannon Fortner, who is in the same boat Vajdon and I were in for years. After the mayor came off the stage, I introduced myself and thanked him for lending his office and support to our cause – which is everyone’s.

Leaders like Shannon and Kelly (Kirschner) give me hope. They let me know that getting kicked out of one’s home, being denied adoption privileges, and enduring long, long torturous separations from our families is not the end of the story. What we are doing today is fun but loaded.

I amble over to Felice’s Café, the cooling (they have AC!) heart of the Fest, from which everything else seemed to pump. Trish & Mike, the owners (Who are you? I ask Trish. Trish. Who’s Felice? Me. Don’t ask. Long story.) give me more big, big smiles. Come on in, make yourself at home. Anything you need, you tell us. They serve a mean Reuben. I hope they make some good bones today. The reading and workshop I’m scheduled to do starts at 3:45p.

I wolf half-a-sandwich before I head to my car. There, in the gorgeous A.C., I do a vocal warm-up (I’ve got a Michigan Mumble so have to prepare). Putting on my new Harvey Milk Fest T-shirt I skate back inside ready to go.

10-15 people have showed up to hear me read and perhaps for the workshop. I introduce myself, give the lay of the land and thanks to HMF, Shannon, WSLR, Felice’s and the stay-there-if-you-ever-get-the-chance Hotel Indigo. The reading and workshop are, as I found out, being recorded for later broadcast.

I have not done a workshop where I have to stay at the mic. I did my best, which I’m afraid, isn’t very good. Mark, the sound engineer, is awfully patient with me. I anchor myself in the reading position but the workshop, forget it.

I’m a teacher so I have a lot of handouts, pics of Harvey, quotes and quips and testimonies from Harvey’s life & work. We pass these handouts around the room and a saucy sailor joins us. We get underway introducing ourselves to each other to strangers present, doing a free-write, a Harvey & Me relay, doing some “I remember”s. After, Q, Jerrari and Richard get up and read their pieces.

On feedback forms, one person writes, “Now I feel like I’ve been a part of the Harvey Milk Festival.” Mike & Trish ask me, “What if we sing Happy Birthday to Harvey?” Brilliant. Maybe they have a muffin or cupcake we can stick a candle in? “I’ll go get one.” With this, Mike disappears. I set up my book table, handouts and describe my book to Trish. Mike calls in a couple of times. Trish takes the phone: Sure, yes. Happy Birthday, Harvey. Have them write that.

Next call: Pink or blue. Blue, he’s a boy.

Next call: It don’t matter. Just get back here.

So, at the end of the workshop, I’d invited the participants and other in the café to stick around for a moment. Mike came in holding the cake, gritting his teeth and grinning (they’d almost dropped it) and all of us sang “Happy Birthday, dear Harvey (and Shannon!)/ Happy Birthday to you.” My job over, I was gathering my books and so on when Joe from WSLR invited me out on the sidewalk for an additional interview & reading. What sweethearts those WSLR folks were. Joe knows just the right questions to ask to provoke my heart and mind.

The workshop done, it was time to party, rest and party some more. The crowd had blossomed in the heat. Now it numbered probably 200 or so. After a beer and lots of water, I returned to the hotel and chilled, talked to my man and showered.

Heading back, I return to a much fuller house. I’d left the VIP tent earlier ‘cause it seemed so lonely. But this time I meet two good-looking guys, Mitch and Steve and ask if I can sit with them. Turns out, we have a lot in common. Steve has just written a book about surviving with HIV and proper nutrition. I hope he finds a publisher as it is darned-needed information. Mitch and I worked on the Lorimar lot during the mid-90s reign of the three queens: Roseanne, Cybill and Brett. On the Internet, you never know who is reading but suffice it to say that we refreshed ourselves on a lot of good stories. Oh, those queens. Mitch was an actor on “Cybill” but is now a producer. Get this: he developed, workshopped and took to Broadway a musical of A Tale of Two Cities from the Aslo Theatre here. No small feat. They had a Broadway run of two months.

The HMF, Mitch and Steve tell me, is unique and unusual in the SRQ queer community who don’t come together very often. There is no Pride here. We talk a long time. I am inspired by them and torn between Shannon, now belting it out on the Main Stage and these two fascinating men. When it comes time for the Vigil, we share flames and chant with the rest of the crowd (I may have it wrong, so, Dear Reader, if you know what we chanted exactly, shoot me a line): Yes, it matters. Yes, it matters.

Then The First Lady of Sarasota takes the stage and Shannon comes back up for an emotional thank you.

Shannon gets her Thank You


I am fortunate to be able to corral her in a big hug for a second and tell her how important what she’d done is and that if we could be of any help to she and her Kelly (stuck in the U.K.). After helping to fold up some chairs and some round tables, I head over to Felice’s for the After Party. I duck out early, back to the hotel, have a glass of wine (sort of; I was too tired to drink!), threw photos up on thomvernon.com and slept like a mad-man.

My dreams were vivid – bound by sadness, celebration and hope.

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~ by Thom on May 28, 2010.

One Response to “Me & Harvey 4: Finally, the Day Itself!”

  1. what a great message.when shannon and jeno told me about doing this event i knew i had to be involed. it was great and i can’t wait untl next year.

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