Connie Kurtz and her wife, Ruthie Berman, never apologized for who they were, and that’s what their friends say made them such great fighters for the LGBT community.
The fight began in 1988 when they sued the New York City Board of Education for domestic partnership benefits. Berman, who was a guidance counselor at a high school, could not qualify for domestic partnership benefits for Kurtz. The two eventually won their lawsuit in 1994. The couple had been together since 1974 but had been friends before that. They were both married in 2011 when New York started recognizing same-sex marriages.
It was a fight that ended for Kurtz on Sunday when she died at age 83.
“The key is that they unapologetically and proudly stood for who they are,” said Meredith Ockman, a board member for the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council [PBCHRC] and the Palm Beach County chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Ockman affectionally refers to Kurtz and Berman as her “Jewish grandmothers.” But, she said, they’re also “grandmothers of the modern LGBT movement.” Ockman also counts the women as friends and mentors and remembered Kurtz as an artist who was quick-witted, irreverent, and very funny; comparable to Lucille Ball.
“We stand on the shoulders of these people who started the marriage equality fight. They’ve done so much. They never back down from a fight. That’s some of the things people really appreciated about her,” Ockman said.
Rand Hoch, president and founder of PBCHRC, was one of those who appreciated Kurtz and her friendship.
“I’ve known Connie for many, many years. She was amazing. From the first day I met her, decades ago, to the last time is saw her in hospice two weeks ago, she was always advocating.”
When Hoch visited Kurtz for the last time, he said she turned over in her bed and “started talking about what an idiot Trump was.”
She never gave up, he said.
“I was expecting her to be frail and just beside herself and she was just keeping up with the news and railing against what this man was doing to our community and the nation . . . We lose someone like this so rarely. So it’s a huge loss. These two women just were relentless in their advocacy. You couldn’t win an argument with this woman [Connie]. She had all the facts and she was passionate.”
That passion for each other and the LGBT community was on display in the 2002 documentary
“Ruthie & Connie: Every Room in the House.”
The documentary follows Kurtz and Berman when they still lived in New York before they moved to Palm Beach County. Born in Brooklyn, both women had husbands and children before they came out to each other and began their relationship in 1974. They came out publicly in 1988 on The Phil Donohue Show and displayed that unapologetic attitude Ockman admires them so much for.
“We are forced to literally say we’re here and we are standing tall and you better recognize us,” Kurtz said. “Nobody’s going to shut me up because silence equals death. You better go find out why I upset you so much because I make love to her,” Berman told Donohue’s audience. “I refuse to keep quiet.”
A service for Kurtz will be held on Wednesday, May 29 at 12 p.m. at IJ Morris Star of David Cemetery of the Palm Beaches, 9321 Memorial Park Road, West Palm Beach.