In Memorium: Connie Kurtz

b. Connie Kurtz, 1936

A monumental activist, particularly for then-domestic-partner benefits, as well as a co-founder of PFLAG chapters and advocate of LGBT elders wellbeing, Connie Kurtz passed away Sunday, May 27, at age 81, in her home in West Palm Beach, Fla., following a lengthy illness.

Kurtz and her wife Ruth Berman were the first same-sex couple in the United States to successfully sue an employer for domestic-partner benefits. Their landmark case against the New York City Board of Education eventually led to the extension of health and dental benefits to the domestic partners of all New York City employees.

Born in Brooklyn, the women first met when they had husbands and children. Years later, they reconnected and both divorced. As a couple, Berman and Kurtz shared a commitment to LGBT rights and feminist activism.

In 1988 Berman worked as a health and physical education teacher at a Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay High School. Kurtz was self-employed. But because they couldn’t marry, Berman could not carry Kurtz on her health and insurance benefits. So, the couple sued for domestic-partner benefits nearing $1 million, landing them appearances on The Phil Donahue Show and Geraldo. They finally won the case in 1994 and went on to become spokeswomen for LGBT rights. An emotional public outpouring led them to create Women in Discovery, the first forum empowering lesbians married to men to discuss their attraction to women.

Over the years, Berman and Kurtz helped organize PFLAG chapters in Florida and New York, and founded The Answer is Love Counseling Center. They served as co-chairs of the New York State NOW Lesbian Task Force.

In 2011 the couple, both grandmothers, married in New York just two days after the state legalized same-sex marriage. “Forty-two years we have been significant others, we have been life partners,” Kurtz said. “Now we are spouses.”

In 2015, the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act aimed to improve and protect services for aging LGBT adults.

A 2002 documentary, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, explores their lives and contributions as a couple. In 2016 they received the SAGE Pioneer Award.

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