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