Connie Kurtz: A life fighting for the LGBTQ community
The LGBTQ community lost one of its staunchest advocates this year with the death of LGBTQ activist Connie Kurtz due to liver cancer at 81 years old.
Connie died last May 27, leaving behind a wife, Ruth Berman, and a lifetime of activism fighting for LGBTQ equality.
Connie Kurtz and Ruth Bermen
Born on 18 July 1936 in Brooklyn, New York, Constance Levy was raised by parents Elias and Rose. Her father worked as a cabdriver while her mother was into women’s clothing.
In 1958, she married Bernard Kurtz and they had two children while living in the Contello Towers in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn.
That was also where she met Ruth and they developed a friendship even as their children played together. But Connie and her family moved to Israel in 1970 and spent four years there before they returned for a visit.
In “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House,” a 2002 documentary about the couple by Deborah Dickson, Ruth said of Connie’s return: “Connie came back from Israel, and I felt joy.”
“Such a full, open breath of joy. And I hadn’t experienced that since my children were born,” Ruth added.
But even as they were in love, the two had to make hard decisions, like divorcing their husbands.
Connie told the Chicago Tribune in 2002: “I walked out on my own kids. No amount of money or gifts I can give them now will ever change what I did to them.”
The couple were later married by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum in a religious ceremony in 2000 and then in 2011 after same-sex marriage was legalized in the state of New York.
Connie Kurtz: From personal to political
Now together, Connie and Ruth tried to help others find and gain acceptance of themselves as well.
Connie said in 2002: “We didn’t counsel women to come out of the closet and dissolve marriages — unless that happened to be their goal.”
“We simply wanted to help them be physically and mentally comfortable in whatever they chose– after exploring their options,” she noted.
Then they realized that Berman, who was a counselor at Sheepshead Bay High School, would not be able to share her domestic-partner benefits with Connie because they were gay but they couldn’t marry.
With two other gay couples, they became plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education in 1988 as they sought domestic-partner benefits.
This suit led to the city extending health benefits to domestic partners in 1994.
During Connie’s funeral service, Ruth said: “The coming out of both of us was the key to what we have done for the community. And we had no clue we were doing it for the community.”
The life advocacy of Connie Kurtz
Both Connie and Ruth went on to speak on gay rights, appearing on shows like the Phil Donahue Show and Gerardo to defend their case in 1988.
Connie told the Palm Beach Post in 2007: “I’m more than proud and out. When I whisper, you can hear me a block away.”
Aside from founding branches of PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) in New York and Florida, they co-chaired the Lesbian Rights Task Force of the New York State Chapter of the National Organization for Women.
They also founded The Answer Is Loving Counseling Center in their hometown of West Palm Beach where they worked for 20 years.
Because of their advocacy, the couple received a Pioneer Award from the advocacy group SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) in 2016.
Likewise, SAGE introduced legislation in Congress to enhance the Older Americans Act and named it the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act in their honor.
In the documentary about their lives, Connie said: “Why the hell would we go and make such a tremendous change in our lives, and certainly in the lives of those that we loved?”
“It wasn’t going from bad to something good. What we went for — what I went for– was a completion,” she said.
Watch the trailer of the documentary “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House” below to see the vibrant spirit of Connie Kurtz.