Let’s Talk: Jennifer C. Gregg, Ruth Berman, and Connie Kurtz
SAGE deeply mourns the death of fierce lesbian activist Connie Kurtz, who passed away May 27, 2018. Connie and her wife, Ruth Berman, were recipients of the SAGE Pioneer Award in 2015. In 1988, the couple sued the New York City Board of Education for domestic partner benefits; in 1992, they won. They later established a PFLAG chapter for in their Florida retirement community. In 2002, they were the subjects of the critically acclaimed documentary Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.
In honor of SAGE’s 40th anniversary, we paired LGBT trailblazers and influencers of varied generations to reflect on our collective past and discuss our future. These interviews reflect life experiences that span several decades and geographical divides. All illustrate burning passions for a better tomorrow.
JENNIFER C. GREGG is the Executive Director of ONE Archives Foundation.
RUTH BERMAN AND CONNIE KURTZ are lifelong LGBT activists who fought for, and won, domestic partner benefits in New York City in the early 80’s.
Who inspired you?
Jennifer: I’m lucky because I have access to the amazing collection of ONE Archives. There are so many people and
organizations that inspire me. The work of ACT UP, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, SAGE, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and, of course, the work of the archives. I am also inspired by ordinary people brave enough to take on these huge issues of equality— like you, Ruth and Connie. For example, there’s a woman here in southern California named Carolyn Weathers. She was part of the Gay Liberation Front. In the early 70’s the American Psychiatric Association was holding a convention here in Los Angeles at The Biltmore Hotel. They had classified homosexuality as a mental illness and were scheduled to show a movie that advocated curing gays and lesbians with electroshock therapy. Carolyn organized a group of people to invade. It was called the Biltmore Invasion. They stormed the stage, they canceled the screening, and she continued to work very hard to have that classification removed. I’m so inspired by so many brave people who took the risk to fight for our justice.
Ruth: 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 in 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. Also, justice was very important to me, so injustice stirs me up with anger and energy to make the change. I came out because Connie was right, being closeted did not respect our relationship. And I also came out in my field. When I found out that people had their spouses on their health plan, but that Connie couldn’t be on my health plan, I was ready to fight. I was more than willing to work with Lambda Legal to sue the Board of Education and get that changed. At that time we were going for domestic partnership. And Connie says to these big shot lawyers— this was in the early 1980’s—“how come we’re not going for marriage?” I don’t call her an ordinary person—my wife, my lover, my best friend, my beneficiary. She’s brilliant, and she was right. She’s my role model and continues to be.
Why is SAGE’s work critical moving forward?
Connie: We as a people need to be recognized and, no matter what era we are in, we need to know that somebody has our back in the truest sense of the phrase. SAGE has always been there for us.
Jennifer: I always say, “Nothing about us without us,” and SAGE truly embraces that adage. It’s an organization that provides its members a seat at the table. A voice. We must advocate for our elders and we must advocate for people at all stages of life in our community.