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PASSAGES Connie Kurtz from 'Ruthie & Connie' film dies
2018-05-29

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Lesbian pioneer Connie ( Constance ) Kurtz died peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones, the evening of Sunday, May 27 after a long illness. Born July 19, 1936 in Brooklyn, she moved with her husband and two children to Israel in 1970, and lived there for four years. When she returned to the United States, she reconnected with her long-time friend Ruth Berman, who had lived in her apartment building ( Contello Towers ) in Gravesend, Brooklyn. They fell in love, divorced their respective husbands, and became a couple. Everyone knew them as "Ruthie and Connie."

In 1988, Connie was a bookkeeper and her partner Ruthie was a guidance counselor and physical education teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn. In 1988, along with two other couples, Ruthie and Connie sued the New York City Board of Education for domestic-partner benefits, eventually winning these historic rights for all New York City employees in 1994. The couple gained national acclaim when they appeared/came out on the Phil Donahue Show and Geraldo to talk about the case.

Among other activist achievements, Connie and Ruthie started branches of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays ( PFLAG ) in Florida and New York, and in 2000, they began serving as co-chairs of the New York State NOW Lesbian Rights Task Force. They received the SAGE Pioneer Award, and founded The Answer is Loving Counseling Center ( they are both certified counselors ) and worked there for more than 20 years.

The story of their love and of their activism is captured in the award-winning documentary Ruthie & Connie: Every Room in the House. The Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz Papers are held in the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History at Smith College and in the Lesbian Archives in Brooklyn, New York.

They were religiously married in a Jewish wedding on May 20, 2000. Legal marriage came on July 26, 2011, two days after marriage for same-sex couples became legal in New York State. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, officiated at both ceremonies.

The couple retired to Palm Beach County, Florida, where they have continued to fight for human rights in Democratic, LGBT, feminist, and #BlackLivesMatter politics. In recognition of their activism, The Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act was introduced into Congress in November 2017.

Connie was passionately devoted to the causes of women's rights, LGBTQ rights, and the environment. She is remembered with great fondness and admiration for her humor, her energy, and her dedication to pursuing justice and her art. Since 1996, Connie also focused on being an artist, which emerged as a profoundly deep passion of hers. She expressed herself with vividly colored paintings, collages, and quilts—all of which she sold and exhibited.

Connie is survived by her wife, her love, her spouse, her co-conspirator Ruth Berman; her sister Sally Silverman; her daughter Eileen Ben Or and son Moishe Kurtz; 14 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren, as well as Ruthie's children and grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents Elias and Rose Levy. She was buried May 30 at Star of David Cemetery of The Palm Beaches ( West Palm Beach, Florida ).

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent in Connie's name to CBST: Congregation Beth Simchat Torah; Compass LGBT Center in Lake Worth, FL; OLOC: Old Lesbians Organizing for Change; and/or BLAST: Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together Women of the Palm Beaches.


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