Senior Icons Ruthie and Connie to receive SAGE Pioneer Award
By Steve Rothaus
“The gala is to honor us for the work we’ve done for many, many years,” said Berman, 82, who lives with Kurtz, 79, in West Palm Beach.
Known in the gay world as “Ruthie and Connie,” they will receive the SAGE Pioneer Award, presented by Services & Advocacy For GLBT Elders, the country’s largest and oldest organization for LGBT seniors.
So familiar are their first names, a 2002 documentary about their lives was titled, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.
In October, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, introduced the “Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act” (H.R. 3793), which would expand the Older Americans Act to improve services for older LGBT adults.
Ruthie and Connie were each born in Brooklyn. They became friends 56 years ago. Both were Jewish women married to men and raising children. Fourteen years later, Ruthie and Connie realized they loved each other, divorced their husbands, and came out as lesbians.
“Forty-two years we have been ‘significant others,’ we have been ‘life partners,’ we have been any name at the time fitting couples of the same sex,” Connie said. “We now are ‘spouses.’ ’’ They married on July 26, 2011 in New York City — two days after the state legalized same-sex marriage.
In 1988, Ruthie sued her employer for the right to insure Connie, a bookkeeper and eating-disorders therapist.
But after they won the lawsuit, the couple learned Connie’s new insurance benefit was considered taxable income. Connie was taxed even after she and Ruthie legally married, unlike married opposite-sex couples. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the IRS must treat same-sex married couples equally to opposite-sex couples.
“Their decades of being out and advocating for change in big and small ways continues to amaze,” said Miami family attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, co-chairwoman of SAGE’s national board. “SAGE is so honored that they’ve lent their names to the LGBT Older Americans Act. I mean, Congress has got to pass it now; you do not want to upset two Brooklyn activists — who so far have 19 great-grandchildren. They are clearly not messing around.”