Council of Leaders

The Council of Leaders are former members of the Equality Florida Board of Directors who have a record of exemplary service and who have volunteered to continue their advocacy on Equality Florida's behalf.

The Council of Leaders will:

  • Focus on representing Equality Florida in the community and cultivating community support
  • Provide institutional knowledge and guidance on Equality Florida advocacy and initiatives

Michelle Ott served on the Equality Florida (EF) Board from 2010 to 2016, including as Board Chair and Secretary. She has served on the EF Greater Gainesville Steering and Host Committees since their inception in 2009, as well as having served as Steering Committee Chair. As spokesperson for Equality is Gainesville’s Business in 2009, she helped defeat a charter amendment that would have removed rights and protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For her commitment to full equality of the LGBT community, Michelle was named the 2008 Pride Community Center of North Central Florida Community Person of the Year and received a 2009 Equality Florida Voice for Equality Award.


Michelle’s community service goes back decades, having been President of the North Central Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, President of Congregation P’nai Or, President of the Royal Gardens Homeowners Association, treasurer of Eastside Soccer Boosters, and campaign treasurer for a City Commission candidate. She also served as a Precinct Chair for the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee, including serving as Recording Secretary, as well as served on the Gainesville Human Rights and Alachua County Stonewall Democrats Boards.

Additionally, for the past 17 years and counting Michelle has taken great joy in performing with the band Other Voices.

Originally from North Carolina and most recently from Atlanta, GA, Rodney has been active in the LGBT movement for the past 25+ years. As COO and co-owner of Making Projects Work, Inc. (an Atlanta-based project management consulting firm), Rodney has networked the access and opportunity afforded to him through both business and personal relationships to support many local LGBT, arts and environmental organizations.

Now as a resident of Hollywood, FL Rodney serves as Chair of Equality Florida’s Council of Leaders, having previously served as both a member and as Co-Chair of Equality Florida's Board of Directors. Rodney was awarded Equality Florida’s Voice for Equality in 2011 for his volunteer efforts in Broward County and around the state.

Along with his husband, Michael P. Williams, Rodney is an active supporter of Athlete Ally, Equality Utah, Georgia Equality, Lambda Legal, The Human Rights Campaign, The Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood, the National Parks Conservation Association and many other local Florida, Utah and Georgia non-profits.

Jim Harper is a writer, editor, educator and community activist. Most recently he developed a chain of free tutoring programs for low-income children in Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties.  

His gay activism began in the early 1990s when, as a long-time reporter and columnist at the St. Petersburg Times, he was among the first mainstream journalists in the U.S. to write openly as a gay man. He served on the board of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and at the Times, helped to pioneer a more open, community-based coverage of LGBT issues. He also covered politics, education, music, and cultural issues. In 1997 he was part of a reporting/editing team that was runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize, for its coverage of a police shooting and racial violence in St. Petersburg. 

Jim was founding president of Friends of the Festival Inc., the non-profit entity that produces the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Festival. He also was board chair of the Tampa Gay and Lesbian Community Center and helped negotiate its successful merger with Tampa Bay’s Metropolitan Charities. For more than a decade, he has participated in a student mentoring program at his undergraduate alma mater, The University of the South, in Sewanee, Tenn. He joined Equality Florida’s board of directors in 2007, where he has focused on strategic planning, fundraising and governance. He lives with his dog Booker in Tampa.

Chuck V. Loring, MBA, CFRE is the senior partner of the Fort Lauderdale and Indianapolis -based firm of Loring, Sternberg, & Associates, which provides fundraising and governance consulting services to nonprofits. Chuck is also a Senior Governance Associate for BoardSource (formerly the National Center for Nonprofit Boards) in Washington, DC, offering expertise in board development and other governance issues to nonprofit boards across the country.

Chuck is a past president of the Indiana Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, is a Certified Fund Raising Executive, and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and an MBA from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. He is a former President of the University of California Alumni Association and a former Trustee of the UCSB Foundation.

Chuck has helped hundreds of local and regional nonprofits across the country improve their governance and such prominent national charities as Special Olympics, The First Tee, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Girl Scouts USA, The Alzheimer’s Association, Easter Seals, Planned Parenthood, Feeding America, Make A Wish America, The League of American Orchestras and the Professional Golfers Association. Each year Chuck conducts dozens of training programs for funders, Community Foundations and Nonprofit Centers interested in good governance.

Chuck is a former member of Equality Florida’s Board of Directors, having served as Governance Chair. He also servied for 6 years on the national Board of Directors for Lambda Legal and was the founding Board Chair of Our Fund, a LGBT community foundation based in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Amy was a long-time Equality Florida Board Member and is a charter member of the Council of Leaders.

Amy owns Feet First sporting goods stores and Naturally Green Products, manufacturer of all natural cleaning products and an all natural pest control product sold on Home Shopping Network!

Amy is proud of all the work that Equality Florida has done over the years, and happy to be continuing to volunteer and serve the community on their behalf.

Tom has been a longtime supporter of Equality Florida. He was at the formation meeting in Key West over 20 years ago. He has remained very impressed with the direction that Equality Florida has taken since its inception. Most importantly, he knows that the organization is making headway in Florida to effect change for its LGBTQ citizens and visitors. He is a past member and Co-Chair of the Equality Florida Board of Directors. Currently, he is a member of the Broward Steering Committee and Host Committee.

Tom has been a community activist for many years working with a variety of non-profits including the SMART Ride and Love Always Wins, which he founded. Tom owns The Runyan Law Firm and specializes in Real Estate Contracts and Closings.

Ken Shelin has been a Florida homeowner for 28 years and has lived in Sarasota with his partner of 42 years, full-time since 1996. For 34 years he worked in the enforcement arm of the United States Food and Drug Administration in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore. For much of that time, he managed a number of offices in several states as well as helped to write Federal regulations and policy documents in the drug regulatory area. He received numerous awards during his Federal service including two Reinventing Government Awards and FDA's highest individual achievement award, the Award of Merit. Subsequent to his Federal career, he consulted with pharmaceutical manufacturers, blood banks, and blood and plasma processing organizations throughout the world on regulatory compliance issues. He also planned, executed and spoke at numerous pharmaceutical manufacturer conferences sponsored by the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy in the US and Europe for a period of ten years.

Later, Ken became involved in civic affairs in the City of Sarasota and has served on the Boards of and as an officer of a number of resident, civic and government boards including the Sarasota Planning Board for 5 years and was elected to and served on the Sarasota City Commission. While on the Commission, Ken was able to convince the Commission to provide domestic partner healthcare benefits to city employees. Ken continues to serve on public and private Boards in Sarasota and state-wide.

About 12 years ago Ken became involved with Equality Florida as a donor and organizer of the annual Suncoast Equality Florida Celebration. He served on the Board for 6 years including 2 years as Chair of the Board of Equality Florida Institute, Inc. the 501 c(3) arm of this state-wide organization.

To eliminate inequality and a lack of diversity, Ken has been working in recent years in southwest Florida and state-wide to create local ordinances which prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. He is currently working to convince the Sarasota City Commission to adopt a ban on conversion therapy. He often speaks on behalf of tolerance and diversity issues before elected bodies as well as broadcast and print media in our area. He has won a number of awards for his work on behalf of equality in our area including the Sarasota Magazine Unity Award.

Ken is a graduate of the University of Delaware, and has two daughters, a son, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Four years ago, Judge Charles Williams, Chief Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit married Ken and Steve Stockwell. They live in downtown Sarasota.

Jim Van Riper is a former Equality Florida board member and board chair. Jim has been engaged in our movement since the 1990's. Jim was board chair for the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Colorado Springs Colorado and actively involved during the Matthew Shepherd murder and one of the first anti-gay constitutional amendment dubbed Romer vs. Evans. Upon moving to Florida, Jim located the Tallahassee "Family Tree" LGBTG Community Center and quickly got involved in local activism in Tallahassee Florida. He became engaged in Equality Florida's work to protect students from bullying due to his own son's experiences in Junior High School.

Jim worked to pass the Leon County human rights ordinance and a local ordinance providing domestic partner benefits and domestic partnerships in Leon County Florida. Jim is a Technology Manager for the City of Tallahassee Police Department.

Jim Van Riper and his husband Myles Robertson have been together for 19 years in June of 2018. Having met at a Pride festival in Denver Colorado and never looked back.

In 2017 Jim was recognized with the Voice for Equality award at the annual Tallahassee Gala.