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
State Senator Mark Leno, the San Francisco Giants, BALIF to be honored on May 3
WHAT: Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) continues 17 years of national celebration events with their annual San Francisco Garden Party + Awards. The event will celebrate the work of hundreds of grassroots volunteers in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, while honoring the contributions of State Senator Mark Leno, the San Francisco Giants, and more. The San Francisco Garden Party + Awards brings together community, corporate and political leaders, celebrities and grassroots volunteers to celebrate and raise funds to move the issue of marriage equality forward. The event is a celebratory afternoon of cocktails, light food, entertainment and a silent auction. Complete details and tickets at www.marriageequality.org/sf-awards
WHO: Founded in 1996, Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) is the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to building equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community through civil marriage equality in every state and at the federal level. With over 40,000 members as well as volunteer leaders and partner organizations in all 50 states, it is the largest grassroots organization of its kind engaged in education, training, organizing, advocacy and coalition building to empower individuals and partner organizations to advocate for their own equality and win equal rights and protections for LGBTQ couples and their children.
WHERE: Chambers Eat + Drink, 601 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
WHEN: Sunday, May 3, 2015 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm PT
MEDIA CREDENTIALS: Media credentials for the event can be requested online.
"Marriage Equality USA has a long and proud history that documents our growth from an idea in 1996 to the vigorous, national grassroots movement it is today," said MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. "At this moment of historic change, I look forward to bringing our community together to celebrate and to honor the leaders and stories that are making marriage equality a reality."
2015 San Francisco Garden Party + Awards Honorees
Ally Honoree: State Senator Mark Leno
California State Senator Mark Leno has been a leader for marriage equality in every aspect of our movement, from the grassroots to the highest levels of government. A true man of the people, Senator Leno has marched in the streets and then marched into legislative chambers where he has made history many times over. As author and champion of California’s historic Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act legislation, he made world headlines and helped pave the road that has led us all the way to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. His distinguished career in public office includes leadership on LGBTQ rights issues and social justice causes that touch every aspect of our lives.
Corporate Partner Honoree: San Francisco Giants
Since moving to San Francisco in 1958, the Giants have been an integral part of our community, and have always stood for San Francisco values. In 1994, the Giants became the first-ever professional sports team to host a benefit game to end AIDS, with the annual “Until There’s A Cure Day.” In 2011, the Giants became the first professional sports team to join the “It Gets Better” campaign with their moving video featuring many of their star players. Most recently, the Giants signed onto an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states.
Community Honoree: Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom
Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF) is the nation's oldest and largest association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in the field of law. Founded in 1980, BALIF has been thte lead party in numerous amicus or friend-of-the-court briefs that Marriage Equality USA and many other civil rights organizations have been proud to join. BALIF has been an extraordinary leader in the movement for LGBT equality for decades, serving as a leading voice advocating for full equality under the law.
• Platinum Partner: New York Life
• Gold Partner: Barefoot Wine & Bubbly
• Silver Partner: Tito’s Handmade Vodka
• Bronze Partners: Pacific Gas & Electric, Chambers Eat + Drink, Rebecca Jean Catering and Events
• Community Partners: Green Graphics, Levi Smith Photography
• Media Partners: KRON4 TV, San Francisco Bay Times, Betty’s List
Brian Silva, Executive Director, (347) 913-6369, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stuart Gaffney, Communications Director, (415) 378-3259, email@example.com
John Lewis, Legal & Policy Director, (415) 377-7924, firstname.lastname@example.org