Connie Kurtz, Lesbian Activist, Artist Dies at 81

Rest in power.

Connie (Constance) Kurtz died in her home she shared with her beloved Ruth Berman in West Palm Beach Florida May 27 after a long illness. She would have been 82 this July.

Connie Kurtz was born in 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. They remained together until Connie’s death. Everyone knew them as Ruthie and Connie.

In 1988, Connie was a bookkeeper and eating disorder therapist and her partner, Ruthie, was a guidance counselor and physical education teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn.  They, with two other couples, sued the New York City Board of Education for domestic partner benefits in 1988, eventually winning such rights for all New York City employees in 1994. The couple went on the Phil Donahue Show and Geraldo to talk about the case, and came out of the closet on Donahue in 1988.

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. Recipients of the SAGE Pioneer award, they also founded The Answer is Loving Counseling Center (they are both certified counselors) and worked there for over twenty years. They were religiously married in a Jewish wedding on May 20, 2000, when it was still illegal for lesbians to marry in a civil wedding.  They were legally married 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 story of their love and of their activism is captured in the award-winning documentary “Ruthie & Connie: Every Room in the House.” Their papers are preserved as the collection “The Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz Papers” in the Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History at Smith College.

The couple retired to Palm Beach County, Florida, where they have been continually active in Democratic, LGBT, feminist, and #BlackLivesMatter politics. In recognition of their activism, The Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act is named in their honor and 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.  In 1996, Connie began to truly focus on her art which emerged as a deep profoundly deep passion of hers.  Her art work manifested her colorful self in vividly colored paintings, collages, and quilts. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her, and by all who benefited from her important work.

Connie is survived by her partner, her love, her spouse, her wife, her co-conspirator, Ruth Berman, her sister Sally Silverman, her daughter Eileen Ben Or and son Moishe Kurtz, both of whom live with their families in Israel.  Together Ruthie and Connie have 14 grandchildren, and 27 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents Elias and Rose Levy.

She will be buried at Star of David Cemetery of The Palm Beach (9321 Memorial Park Rd., West Palm Beach, FL.33417).

We mourn the death of CBST member Connie Kurtz, z”l, one of the true giants of our generation. In a couple of hours, I will be officiating at her funeral and helping to return her body to God’s earth and pray for her soul to be at peace.

Connie’s funeral is today at noon in Florida. If you would like to watch it via live-stream, go to YouTube and search: Connie Kurtz Memorial Service May 30, 2018 at noon. If it doesn’t work, a video will be uploaded on to YouTube and posted as soon as possible.

We will be holding a memorial service for Connie at CBST in NYC sometime soon. Details will be forthcoming.

If you’ve never seen the movie (or saw it a long time ago) about Connie and her partner, Ruth Berman, now is an appropriate time. We stand on their shoulders! Here’s how to rent or buy “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.”

Her obituary, Connie Kurtz, Lesbian Activist, Artist, Dies at 82, and photographs, was published yesterday in Gay City News.

For information about shiva and where to send tzedakah click here.

We send our love and deep condolences to Ruthie and all who are mourning. Connie was a friend, mentor, and icon to so many.

May her memory be a blessing to our lives and may our lives forever bless her memory.

Tsedakah/donations in Connie’s memory may be sent in Connie’s name to CBST, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City (www.cbst.org); Compass LGBT Center in Lake Worth, FL; OLOC, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change and BLAST: Bi, Lesbian, Straight Women Together.

“Connie was a force of nature.  Everyone who encountered her — even for the first time and even briefly — felt her passion, her love, her fierceness and her humor.  Connie and her love Ruthie changed the world, and never lost the love of life, of art and of all of her people.  I am sending my love to Ruthie and all who are in grief over this terrible loss.  A great light has gone out in our world.  May her memory forever bless us and may our lives be forever a blessing to her memory.” – Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Senior Rabbi

“Connie and her soulmate Ruth have been iconic leaders of our community for decades, which is why the federal legislation SAGE has introduced in Congress on behalf of LGBT elders is named after them.  Words can’t explain how sad we are that Connie has passed.  We send our love and condolences to Ruth.  And we celebrate and honor Connie’s fierce and passionate legacy, which has made the world a better place for so many of us.” – Michael Adams, SAGE CEO

“Ruthie and Connie’s story as told through Deborah Dickson’s beautiful film has been a life changer for many of my students in lesbian and queer history. We can’t help but fall in love with them again and again. To be able to then go into the archives here at Smith and see those same scrapbooks and photos and hold their vivid and colorful history in our hands has been invaluable.  They are heroes to so many, but for the Smith students and other researchers who get to view their collection up close it’s pure magic. Their life story is a wonderful portal to the whole range of joy and loss in our lives. My deepest gratitude for their openness and courage and for leaving their stories with us.” – Kelly Anderson, a Professor of the Study of Women and Gender whose Documenting Lesbian Lives course uses the Ruthie & Connie documentary and materials from their collection