Iconic LGBT+ Campaigner Connie Kurtz Passes Away After A Long Illness

Connie Kurtz became a veteran of post-Stonewall LGBT+ legal battles after she and her partner Ruthie Berman took on New York State bureaucracy and won.

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The funeral of Trailblazing  LGBT+ Activist and star of the 2002 documentary Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House Connie Kurtz took place yesterday in Florida. Kurtz died at the age of 81 following a long illness.

Connie came to public attention during a mammoth legal battle with The New York Board of Education which began in 1988. Kurtz and her partner –  the eponymous Ruthie – successfully sued the board for partnership rights, eventually winning them for all New York City state employees in 1994.

Connie was born in Brooklyn in 1936. In 1970 she relocated to Israel with her then-husband and family. She eventually relocated to the United States four years later where she reconnected with longtime pal Ruthie Berman. They both fell in love and divorced their husbands.

 

Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz with their daughters, n.d.
Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz with their daughters, n.d.

In 1998 Bermann found herself working as a P.E teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn. The legal ban on same-sex marriage meant Berman was precluded from sharing her health benefits with Kurtz. They sued the state for partnership rights and went on shows such as Geraldo and Phil Donoghue to promote their cause and also talk about broader issues of equality.

In 2000, when gay marriage was not legally recognised, Kurtz and Berman were religiously married in a Jewish wedding officiated by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi of Manhattan’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. They were eventually legally married on July 26, 2011, two days after marriage for same-sex couples was introduced in New York State, and Kleinbaum officiated at that ceremony as well.

Paying tribute to her wife shortly before her death Ruthie spoke with SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBT seniors, and said: “I had three children. I had the best of all possible worlds, and then I fell in love with my best friend. There was no turning back, but it was a little bit of a nightmare coming out. So who inspired me at this particular time of my life as a lesbian? It was my spouse, Connie”. “She said, “You are not respecting our relationship if you’re going to remain in the closet.” And she’s always been my inspiration because she did not have the fear I had. She did not have the ugliness of thinking that I was an abomination.”

British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell also paid tribute saying, “Connie will be missed and remembered for her decades of LGBT+ activism, which helped to positively transform the lives of so many LGBT+ people. She was a pioneer and heroine of the American LGBT+ movement.”

Kurtz is survived by her wife Ruthie Berman; sister, Sally Silverman; daughter, Eileen Ben Or, and son, Moishe Kurtz, who both live with their families in Israel.

© 2018 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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