"My husband and I have been together for almost 15 years now,” says MEUSA Multimedia Lead Paul Carey. "But it's not been an easy road for us. Juan Carlos is from Mexico and we've experienced the challenges faced by bi-national couples first-hand,” he says, reflecting on how the lack of marriage equality impacted their relationship in its early years. “For our first five years of being together, we lived apart until Juan secured a work visa for the U.S. Now that we're married, our status as a couple in the U.S. is secure."
Like many MEUSA volunteers, Paul’s personal experience propelled him to join the marriage equality cause. As for choosing MEUSA, he says, "I'd been aware of MEUSA for a number of years but it was my friendship with Executive Director Brian Silva that brought me in to the team. I had already been capturing MEUSA events with my own photos when Brian asked me to help manage MEUSA's multimedia archive for its constituents.”
Paul’s MEUSA assignment turned out to be more than he originally anticipated. "It's been a challenging role - pulling together existing photos and videos that the organization had, plus reaching out to past participants to collect as much information as we can. We have a few videos made for MEUSA, plus videos provided by other sources. In our photo collection, we have almost 10,000 photos archived, over 3,000 of which are available to everyone.”
Indeed, his responsibilities cut across multiple facets of MEUSA activities. "It's my role to manage our online video and photographic resources. I have set up YouTube and Flickr accounts for Marriage Equality USA to document where we've been and the activities that we're engaged in. In addition, I curate videos for our audience, providing a guided tour of our events and activities where MEUSA either sponsors or participates. As a photographer, I've been on hand to personally capture many of our events, including our National Gala, Gay Pride events and, most recently, showing our support for Marriage Equality at the recent Supreme Court oral arguments. For the past couple of years, I've created videos for our Galas and Awards events utilizing content provided by MEUSA volunteers across the country.”
Paul considers his recent Supreme Court coverage to be one of his most important MEUSA assignments. "I was the official MEUSA photographer for the recent Unite for Marriage events during the oral arguments on marriage at SCOTUS (photo set for 2015-04-28). It was an exciting time to be in D.C., and to be a part of the Unite for Marriage rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. We spent the morning showing our support with other marriage equality organizations and met with a number of people that are directly affected by the decision. The joy of each person's story was great to hear.”
Hearing personal stories is among the rewards Paul says volunteering at MEUSA has brought him. "Working directly with the leadership team at MEUSA has given me broader insight into the organization and into the marriage equality movement. I've been able to meet a number of people from around the country and hear a wide variety of stories. The most compelling thing I've learned is the diversity of the families that we are working to protect. We have families across the country that need our support and encouragement.”
The first three photos were provided by Paul Carey from his personal collection.
First photo: Husbands Juan Carlos Fernandez and Paul Carey in Brooklyn.
Second photo: Juan Carlos, Brian Silva and Paul at the 2014 Annual NYC MEUSA Gala.
Third photo: Paul in San Francisco.
Fourth photo: Photo of young marriage equality supporter taken by Paul Carey on 28 April 2015 in Washington DC, at the Unite for Marriage rally during the SCOTUS marriage hearing.
Fighting for social change is in my blood,” says longtime MEUSA volunteer and former board member Kirsten Berzon. “I come from a family of social justice advocates. The draw toward MEUSA was pretty simple for me,” she says of her immediate interest in the organization back in 2006.
Kirsten dates joining the MEUSA family back to a Pride event in Oakland, CA. “I met Davina Kotulski, former MEUSA Executive Director, there. I already knew who she and her then-wife, Molly McKay, were; both tremendous leaders in the movement — even before there was a movement. We started talking and when I mentioned that I was a professional event planner, her eyes lit up.”
The serendipitous encounter would lead to Kirsten’s involvement in a series of MEUSA events and award ceremonies, from chairing the San Francisco Awards Receptions to organizing the MEUSA presence in the San Francisco Pride Parade and Celebration, to planning smaller fundraisers. Her initial interest was a simple quest for equality. “Equal civil marriage rights are a matter of civil rights. LGBT people should not be treated any differently than straight people. The fact that the 1,183 rights of marriage were not available to LGBT people, simply because of who they love, was not something I could accept without trying to advocate for social change,” says Kirsten.
But it was an epiphany, of sorts, that turbo-charged Kirsten’s marriage equality activism. “One moment that really hit me was sitting in a MEUSA leadership retreat in October 2006, shortly after meeting Davina, and learning that over 50 rights of those 1,183 attributable to marriage pertain to tax law. To think that, should my spouse die, I would be treated as a legal stranger in the eyes of the law and could potentially be financially destitute after being denied social security benefits, was unconscionable to me. This was one of those moments when I knew I had to get involved.”
After serving as a board member and Treasurer of MEUSA from 2008 to 2009, Kirsten returned to the ranks of dedicated MEUSA volunteers to focus on the San Francisco Awards Reception. “It has been wonderful to see the Bay Area community come together for this event and really support it. The work of MEUSA in the Bay Area, until 2013, was much more focused on education, rallies and the like. We weren’t sure if there was an appetite for a fundraising event or if we had the right audience. Not only have we found our audience, the event has gotten bigger and better each year, raising more and more funds for the organization. Honoring Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Judge Vaughn Walker, two important heroes of our movement, as well as getting to thank them in person, was a huge highlight of my time with MEUSA.”
Kirsten says she is glad she chose to channel her activism to MEUSA among the major LGBTQ rights organizations. “Time and time again, MEUSA has taught me that a small group of people really can change the world. It has been clear to me from day one that changing hearts and minds, by telling our stories, one person at a time, is what has resulted in so much movement on this issue in such a short period of time. While the ‘big boys’ may have more staff, market share and funding, Marriage Equality USA is ‘the little organization that could.’"
First photo: Kirsten Berzon and Davina Kotulski. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Berzon's Facebook.
Second photo: Kirsten Berzon, by Kathy Ma.
Third photo: Kirsten Berzon and her wife Kathy Ma served as San Francisco Pride June 2009 poster women. This photo shows them next to a poster of them on a SF bus stop shelter - they are wearing their MEUSA t-shirts. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Berzon
Musical theatre enthusiasts are familiar with the concept of the “swing,” the singer/dancer/actor who takes on a number of rolls, including filling in for understudies when they need to replace a missing lead. If MEUSA were a musical, Christine Allen would, no doubt, be its “swing.” IT Director, board member, National Leadership Coordinator, Administrative Coordinator and Chapter Leader are the positions she has held in her 10-plus years of marriage equality activism.
"Put simply, Marriage Equality USA would not be what it is today without Christine Allen. Her intelligence, dedication, persistence, honesty, compassion, and boundless sense of humor have sustained the organization in the myriad positions she has held for over a decade," observes MEUSA board member Stuart Gaffney. "The breadth of skills that Christine has demonstrated over the many years she has served as a MEUSA national staff member is striking. She can turn-around a press release on a dime so that LGBTQ voices are part of a news story as it breaks. She has spent countless hours engaging, encouraging and mentoring MEUSA volunteers and staff to bring out the best in them to contribute to the movement. Christine has played a pivotal role in shaping and maintaining MEUSA's online presence. She does whatever it takes to help make the website a terrific resource. She is a talented writer, including noting technical and subtle aspects of legal cases. She also works with the technical components to help make the website run smoothly."
Fellow board member and Stuart’s husband, John Lewis, adds, “We began working with Christine in February 2004 when San Francisco opened the door for LGBTQ couples to marry. We shared that joy and worked together to make marriage equality a reality throughout California in 2008, only to have Proposition 8 take it away. Christine and other MEUSA leaders continued the long struggle to end Proposition 8 and kept many MEUSA volunteers and supporters connected to the movement.”
Despite her wide-ranging involvement, Christine says it was her wife, Ann, who drove her interest in advocating for the movement. “My wife always wanted to get married, while I had been active in fair housing, racial and economic injustice, lesbian mothers living in poverty, and local LGBTQ rights. I got involved in marriage equality because my wife so much wanted to marry -- for her it was personal and very emotional. She wanted to make that commitment in front of other people and to be legally recognized,” she says.
“My wife and I came at marriage from very different angles. It was much more of a civil rights issue for me. The personal draw was that it was something my wife wanted so badly. Here is the person I love more than anyone in the world and if she wants this, then why not fight for it?” The couple has been together for 30 years, entering into a California Domestic Partnership in 1998, getting married in San Francisco in 2004 and then again in 2008 during the brief window pre-Windsor when same gender couples enjoyed equal marriage rights in California.
Indeed, Christine’s family, consisting of her wife, Ann, and their five children, had grown up without the many practical benefits of marriage that Christine says were not even apparent to them while they were raising their children. Teachers, medical professionals and others would ask, “Which one of you is the mother?” Christine remembers. “If we responded, ‘we both are,’ they would look at us like we were stark-raving crazy. They wanted us to define who we were in their terms. Eventually I’d say, ‘I’m the biological mother,’ and then they would turn only to me, treating Ann as if she were non-existent.” It was especially hard dealing with any sort of medical emergency. “If our youngest got sick and I stayed home with the other kids while Ann took the baby to the hospital, she'd have instant problems because she wasn’t a legal parent. They would tell us, ‘You can’t have two parents of the same gender.’’’
Christine also remembers when Ann suffered a heart attack in 2006. While Ann was being whisked to the hospital in an ambulance, Christine had to go home to cull together their medical power of attorney and domestic partnership certificate. “I had to get that paperwork to put into her file so they [hospital personnel, medical professionals] would talk to me, acknowledge me. Ann had already been taken into surgery. When Ann woke up, she kept saying, ‘Where were you? I was so scared. I was all alone.’ I should have been there holding her hand but no, I was at the house getting the paperwork to prove who we were to each other.”
A summation of similar personal experiences from Christine’s family life found its way into the MEUSA amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court when Proposition 8 was being challenged. She wrote, “I can’t begin to describe the utter frustration when you are holding a feverish infant with whooping cough in the middle of the night and emergency room staff are debating who the ‘real’ mother is and whether or not you have the ‘right’ to get the child treated. If you are married, you automatically have a legal right to that child and things proceed in a normal manner.”
The range of Christine’s personal experiences and advocacy work has made her an indispensable part of MEUSA. "Since I came on board with MEUSA, Christine has been my rock in helping understand our organization’s rich history. It’s rare to have the benefit of a volunteer like Christine with so many years of experience in such a diverse number of roles," says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. “We can’t do without her.”