I am addicted to reading the obits in the New York Times.
And not just because of the old joke about checking that I’m not there.
Besides, I am pretty sure that any death notice about me in the Times would have to be paid for.
Some of the Time’s obit writers are terrific. I miss Margalit Fox, who left the Times earlier this year after writing obits for 24 years. And I’m a fan of Douglas Martin’s obits.
Yesterday there was the story of Connie Kurtz. She died last week at the age of 81.
Ms Kurtz was notable for her work on LGBTQ rights, particularly for the rights of the Gay elderly.
Connie Kurtz was married to Ruth Berman. They both had been married to men before they married each other.
Ms. Kurtz worked as a bookkeeper, and Ms. Berman was a counselor at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn. It was Ms. Berman’s career that led them in 1988 to become plaintiffs, along with two other gay couples, in a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education seeking domestic-partner benefits. That suit helped lead the city to extend health benefits to domestic partners in 1994.
Reading about Ms Kurtz led me to recall the year many years ago when we tried to bargain for the right of teachers in our district to use a sick day as a bereavement day if a domestic partner died.
Looking back, that we even had to bargain this seems nuts.
This was way before marriage equality became the law of the land.
The contract had language covering the use of sick days for bereavement. But the language was very, very specific as to who had to die in order to claim a sick day for bereavement.
If we had a spouse who died? Okay? Our parents? Okay. Our kids? Okay? But no uncles or cousins.
If Uncle Ernie died and I wanted take a day to attend the funeral, I had to lie and say I had a cold, or take it as an unpaid day.
Our bargaining team offered language that said bereavement days could be used to cover the death of a domestic partner.
“Absolutely not,” said the board. They blamed their bias on community standards.
We went back and forth on this over several bargaining sessions. And then finally Mary Kay, one of the members of our team – and someone who I frankly never would have expected to hear be so outraged over the issue – stood up and spoke in a firm teacher voice.
“You mean to tell me that a teacher in our district, who lost someone who they shared a life with, someone who they loved and cared for years and years, will not be permitted by this district to take time to attend their loved one’s funeral. Shame on you!”
The board quickly adjourned to another room.
When they came back they offered a counter proposal that included as the bereavement language, “those who shared a household.”
They just couldn’t bring themselves to agree to use the words, “domestic partners.”
It was the best we could do at the time.
It’s hard to believe it now.