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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 17
Senator Patty Murray honors Gay Seattle resident with Golden Tennis Shoe Award
Section One
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Senator Patty Murray honors Gay Seattle resident with Golden Tennis Shoe Award

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

U.S. Senator Patty Murray honored Joe Krumbach with a Golden Tennis Shoe Award last week.

Murray gives the awards every year to 'everyday heroes,' people who make a difference in their communities. Krumbach most certainly is deserving of the award by its definition. He recently made history for taking on the Department of Veterans Affairs and ultimately beating them in court for benefits he says were entitled to him after his husband died.

Krumbach married Jerry Hatcher in 2003 with an extravagant wedding at Salty's in Seattle. Hatcher was a decorated Vietnam veteran who earned two purple hearts, two bronze stars, and an Army Commendation for Valor. Sadly, Hatcher died of cancer with Krumbach at his bedside in 2008.

Despite being domestic partners, Washington state did not recognize their same-sex marriage until 2012. In all reality, this is what life was like for many same-sex couples just a few short years ago. The protections and privilege that is afforded to us now is light years away from the oppressive - and often cruel - way that newly-widowed partners of same-sex couples were treated by state and federal governments. Simply put - no benefits were awarded to the spouses of same-sex couples, ever.

In 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the historic United States v. Windsor decision, many people that had been domestic partners or had entered into a civil union with someone from the same sex, began to look into benefits that they felt might be owed to them now that the highest court in the land boldly said that discrimination against same-sex couples by excluding them from being able to legally marry and have that marriage recognized was infringing on their rights as a U.S. citizen.

Seizing the moment, Krumbach says he applied for VA benefits. And like so many that had tried before him, he was denied.

'I was pissed,' said Krumbach. 'How dare you say 'no.' His service was no different than any other service and denying someone those benefits is inherently wrong.'

The VA again rejected Krumbach's claim for so-called dependency and indemnity compensation as well as health insurance after a letter writing campaign where Krumbach asked again and again for the benefits. The VA would not budge. They refused to reverse their decision.

None of this seemed to make any sense to Krumbach but he knew that he could no longer do this and win if he continued on his own. So Krumbach contacted Legal Voice, a law firm in Seattle, and Senator Patty Murray's office to try and finally make the change. Both Lambda and Murray's office stepped in to answer Krumbach's request for help.

With a little help from his friends Krumbach became the first known Gay person in Washington state to have his marriage retroactively recognized by the state and the Department of Veterans Affairs and receive survivor benefits because of it.

The awarding of the benefits came after a two-year fight. The ruling allowed him to retroactively change Hatcher's death certificate to signify he was married, thus making Krumbach eligible for the benefits.

'It's not about the money for me. I hate the word 'entitled.' he told KING 5 News after the ruling. 'It was emotionally exhausting. But what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong.'

Fast forward to a few weeks ago in March and Krumbach says a staff member from Murray's office called him and told him that he had been nominated several times and that he would be one of three people to receive a Golden Tennis Shoe award, on March 21, at the Washington State Convention Center.

'I was very surprised and a little overwhelmed,' Krumbach said, recalling that the call from Murray's office came five years to the day after his father died. The significance is that his father had not come to his 2003 wedding to Hatcher. Krumbach took this as a sign. 'I thought, 'Wow, maybe he was saying I was wrong,' Krumbach said.

Krumbach recalls that when he and Hatcher married, they did not care what anyone thought about their relationship or the fact that they were two people from the same-sex. But he certainly had no idea that their marriage would lead to a prolonged legal fight or receiving the award given in front of 1,400 people.

After receiving the award, Krumbach addressed the crowd. 'I was a little emotional,' he said.

Hatcher was the last person he acknowledged. Krumbach feels that through it all Hatcher has watched over him, saying, 'He has been my silent partner in all of this.'

Vice President Joe Biden was at the luncheon and Krumbach met Biden one-on-one and said he was 'friendly, genuine and amazingly personable.'

The two other recipients of the 2016 Golden Tennis Shoe Awards are Gary Kennison, who, after his daughter was murdered by her estranged husband, helped lobby for a state law requiring family notifications when a confiscated firearm is returned to a potentially dangerous owner, and Cheryl Senson, who overcame drug addiction to become an advocate for the needy and now heads the nonprofit Jubilee Women's Center in Seattle.

Krumbach told Seattle Gay News, 'I am very proud to be recognized by Senator Murray.'

'When I started this battle against the State of Washington to get Jerry's death certificate changed from Registered Domestic Partner to Married, and then took on the VA to receive Jerry's benefits I really had no idea of what I was doing, or how it would impact others, I was just mad; he earned these benefits through his service, and his blood,' he said.

'Now, its part of the official record, change was made,' said Krumbach, pointing out, 'Through these actions Jerry and I became the first 'legally married' same sex couple in Washington State having been married in 2003.'

Krumbach told SGN, 'This victory against the VA will make it easier for others to be able to get their legally entitled benefits from their marriages.'

'It was the right thing to do,' he adds. 'Sometimes you have to be really mad to get off your backside and fight back.'

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