Araguz booking raises questions about Harris County jail’s treatment of transgender inmates

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

Judge Vanessa Valasquez

According to the Houston Chronicle, Nikki Araguz has been booked into the Harris County Jain after arriving 40 minutes late for a scheduled court appearance on Friday. The court date was to allow Araguz to plead guilty to charges that she stole a watch from an acquaintance last year. Under the proposed plea bargain Araguz would have paid $2,600 in restitution and served 15 days in county jail. State District Judge Vanessa Velasquez, a Republican first appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry, responded to Araguz’ apologies for her tardiness with “It’s too late for sorry,” ordering bailiffs to escort her to a hold cell next to the courtroom.

Araguz is the widow of firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz who died in the line of duty last year. Capt. Araguz’s ex-wife and mother have sued to claim the portion of his survivor’s benefits reserved for the spouses of slain firefighters, claiming that since Nikki Araguz was identified as male at birth the marriage was invalid under Texas’ laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriage. Mrs. Araguz’s birth certificate identifies her as female, as does her state issued identification.

Araguz’s booking has raised questions about the Harris County’s treatment of transgender detainees. The Sheriff Department’s Public Information Inquiry System listed Araguz using her male birth name on Friday. They have since removed the name from the site’s searchable database but have retained the record, listing it under the department’s “special person number” (SPN) filing system. The SPN record includes Araguz’s birth name. The Sheriff’s office has not returned calls from Houstini asking why the department is not using Araguz’s legal name and if this is common practice.

According to a friend who has visited Araguz at the jail her identity bracelet correctly identifies her gender as “F” – but reflects Araguz’s birth name, not her legal name. Araguz is segregated from the general jail population, but can receive visitors during regular visiting hours.

Araguz will remain in the Harris County Jail until Jan 25 when she is scheduled to appear again before Judge Velasquez.

—  admin

Judge to rule this week in Nikki Araguz case

Nikki Araguz

Transgender widow vows appeal if she loses case

JUAN A. LOZANO  |  Associated Press

WHARTON, Texas — The transgender widow of a Texas firefighter will likely learn next week whether his family’s request to nullify their marriage and strip her of any death benefits will be granted, a judge said Friday.

State District Judge Randy Clapp made the announcement after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who was killed while battling a blaze last year. The suit argues that his widow shouldn’t get any benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

The widow, Nikki Araguz, said she had done everything medically and legally possible to show that she is female and was legally married under Texas law. She believes that she’s entitled to widow’s benefits.

“I believe the judge is going to rule in my favor,” Araguz said after the court hearing.

The lawsuit seeks control over death benefits and assets totaling more than $600,000, which the firefighter’s family wants to go to his two sons from a previous marriage. Voiding the marriage would prevent Nikki Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had together.

Thomas Araguz died while fighting a fire at an egg farm near Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, in July 2010. He was 30.

His mother, Simona Longoria, filed a lawsuit asking that her son’s marriage be voided. She and her family have said he learned of his wife’s gender history just prior to his death, and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But Nikki Araguz, 35, has insisted that her husband was aware she was born a man and that he fully supported her through the surgical process to become a woman. She underwent surgery two months after they were married in 2008.

Longoria’s attorney, Chad Ellis, argued that Texas law — specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender — supports his client’s efforts to void the marriage.

The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband’s death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage and wrongful death claim were invalid.

Ellis presented medical and school records that he said showed Nikki Araguz was born without female reproductive organs and that she presented herself as a male while growing up and going to school. He also said her birth certificate at the time of her marriage indicated she was a man.

“By law, two males cannot be married in this state,” Ellis told the judge.

Nikki Araguz, who was born in California, did not change her birth certificate to reflect she had become a female until after her husband’s death, said Edward Burwell, one of the attorneys for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of his two children.

But one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Darrell Steidley, said that when his client got her marriage license, she presented the necessary legal documents to show she was a female. He also noted changes made in 2009 to the Texas Family Code that allowed people to present numerous alternatives to a birth certificate as the proof of identity needed to get a marriage license. That was an example, he argued, of the state trying to move away from the 1999 appeals court ruling.

The changes in 2009 allowed transgendered people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married.

After the hearing, the firefighter’s family and attorneys for his ex-wife criticized plans by Nikki Araguz to star in a reality television dating show and implied she was only interested in money and fame that the case would bring her.

“That is absurd,” Nikki Araguz said in response. “I’m after my civil equality and the rights that I deserve as the wife of a fallen firefighter.”

If the judge rules against the firefighter’s family in their motion for a summary judgment, the case would then proceed to trial. Araguz said if the judge rules against her, she would appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

—  John Wright

Which Will Be The Texas Same-Sex Marriage? Nikki Araguz’s Or Sabrina Hill’s Marriage?

Marriage, involving Texas and women who’ve had genital reconstruction surgery — which I’ll identify for the purposes of this piece as transsexual women — are at the center of a legal question: Which will be the Texas same-sex marriage? — Nikki Araguz’s or Sabrina Hill’s marriage?.

Beginning with the Houston Chronicle’s Legal Chaos Reigns In Same-Sex Unions, Maria C. Gonzalez discusses same-sex marriage, and does it mostly in regards to Nikki Araguz marriage. When I spoke to Professor Gonzalez about her commentary, she told me the header she submitted for her piece was A Plea For The Dignity Of Private Dysfunction. She didn’t title the piece with regards to same-sex marriage, but an editor for the Houston Chronicle retitled it.

Professor Gonzalez began her piece this way:

Many Texans are so afraid of gay, lesbian, bisexual and especially transgender persons that what would be simple probate matters to others turn into media fodder for us.

The Nikki Araguz case going on in Wharton County is another example of how the systematic disenfranchisement of members of my community has turned one woman’s private pain into a very public indignity. Firefighter Thomas Araguz died, and his wife and children would normally receive his death benefits. Perhaps like many in-laws who do not approve of their children’s choice of spouse, Araguz’s parents do not want their daughter-in-law to receive anything. They have hired a lawyer who is using a 1999 San Antonio appeals court case, Littleton v. Prange, to argue that Nikki Araguz was not Thomas Araguz’s wife because there was no marriage. Littleton held that even if one’s gender has been surgically corrected, one nonetheless remains the gender identified on his/her birth certificate. In other words, Littleton says that gender cannot be legally changed for the purposes of marriage.

Many transwomen and transmen in Texas are married to their partners, many of whose birth certificates reflect the same gender as their spouses. In El Paso, a same-sex couple recently requested a marriage license. These two women have presented appropriate documents with birth certificates showing that one of them was identified as male at birth.

The request has been forwarded to Attorney General Greg Abbott for a ruling. Not surprisingly, Abbott has avoided controversy by delaying his ruling pending an outcome in the Wharton County case. This is a no-win case for Abbott, whose supporters overwhelmingly oppose both same sex and transgender marriage….

That second woman would be Sabrina Hill. In that case, Sabrina Hill was denied marriage to another woman because she is a post-surgical, male-to-female transsexual. She attempted to obtain a marriage license to marry another woman, based on the Judgment of the Texas Appeals Court in the Case of Littleton v. Prange, but as Professor Gonzalez found the Attorney General in Texas unwilling to take a position on whether Sabrina Hill’s marriage would be an opposite-sex or same-sex marriage.

The courts are going to decide what sex and gender is in Texas, and either Nikki Araguz or Sabrina Hill is going to end up with a marriage that is declared a same-sex marriage.

If we use gender identity and genital reconstruction surgery as our measures, then legally Sabrina Hill’s planned marriage would be a Texas same-sex marriage, and Nikki Araguz will have had a Texas heterosexual marriage. If Littleton v. Prague is still the Texas sex and gender legal standard, then Sabrina Hill’s planned marriage would be a legally heterosexual marriage, and Nikki Araguz will have had a same-sex marriage.

If the 2009 Texas statue Texas Fam. § 1.102, Chapter 2 — which states {as modified by Acts 2009, 81st Leg., R.S., Ch. 978, Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2009 (H.B. No. 3666)} — that for a marriage license application, one way proof of eligibility for a planned marriage may be established is by “an original or certified copy of a court order relating to the applicant’s name change or sex change,” — well, then we are where we are now: in limbo. We’re in a Texas courtroom deciding whether someone is male or female for purposes of marriage, and that decision will effect many, many other transsexual people in Texas.

Weighing in on this in relationship to LGBT community is Phyllis Frye — Nikki Araguz’s attorney. Frye herself is identified as both transsexual and transgender; Her website is www.transgenderlegal.com.

Well, Frye was quoted in the Dallas Voice, in their piece ‘The Same-Sex Marriage Fight Is Just As Much A Transgender Fight As It Is (An LGB) Fight’, as stating the following in an newsletter/e-blast:

“Why is it that the Prop 8, same-sex marriage fight in CA and the DOMA same-sex marriage fight in the Northeast are BOTH so well funded by lesbian and gay groups and lesbian and gay individuals, but the same-sex marriage fight in Texas has been thus far supported ONLY by a small number of mostly transgenders plus three LGBT-allied churches, mostly in Houston, all in Texas?

“Where is the same national support given for the L and G same-sex marriage struggles?” she added. “Has it remained nonexistent for over six weeks now because this Texas fight is insignificantly and merely a ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fight, so who nationally gives a shit? Then are we a National LGBT-inclusive community, but NOT when it comes to financing the ‘tranny’ same-sex marriage fights? From here, it seems to me – still – that the national L and G groups and the big bucks L and G attitudes haven’t really changed very much. FOLKS, IT IS TIME YOU FIGURED IT OUT THAT THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE FIGHT IS JUST AS MUCH A TRANSGENDER FIGHT AS IT IS A LESBIAN, GAY AND BISEXUAL FIGHT.

Okay, if I were wording Phyllis Frye’s e-blast, I would have used the language “marriage equality” instead of “same-sex marriage” because her client doesn’t see her marriage to her husband as a same-sex marriage. But, Frye’s overall point on LGBT donors and LGBT organizations is still worth noting.

As far as I can tell, no national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) non-profit organization has weighed in on the marriage issues revolving around the specific cases of Nikki Araguz and Sabrina Hill, and Frye would know better than me if any LGBT big donor or non-profit organization has contributed to Nikki Araguz’s legal defense fund.

It’s an eerie silence from LGBT community, for sure. This is especially true considering how many trans people I know have worked both in front of the room and behind the scenes on marriage equality — especially here in my own home state with regards to Prop 8.

In the meantime, if Littleton v. Prague is still the standard on sex and gender for marriage purposes in Texas, then the court ruling on Nikki Araguz’s probate case will again highlight how post-operative transsexuals have a Loving v. Virginia issue regarding the fundamental right to marry — an issue of their marriages annulled at state lines. That’s because, as New Jersey’s M.T. v. J.T. showed us, different states apply different standards to transsexuals regarding sex and gender, and crossing state lines can result in a transsexual’s marriage becoming a heterosexual marriage or a same-sex marriage.

In the meantime too, we’re still left with the legal question: Which will be the Texas same-sex marriage? — Nikki Araguz’s or Sabrina Hill’s marriage?

~~~~~

Further reading:

* Houston Press: The Fireman’s Wife

* M.T. v. J.T. (Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, 1976)

* Lewis v. Harris (New Jersey, 2006)

* Littleton v. Prague (Texas Appellate Court, 1999)

* Deakin Law Review: The Proof is in the History: The Louisiana Constitution Recognizes Transsexual Marriages and Louisiana Sex Discrimination Law Covers Transsexuals- So Why Isn’t Everyone Celebrating? (By Katrina Rose)

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Related:

* My Fox Houston Asks Website Users Whether Trans People Should Be Allowed To Marry

* One’s Gender Identity Isn’t Societal Perception Of It; Marriage Equality Isn’t Just A GLB Issue

* Wednesday This & That: Open Thread (August 4, 2010)

* The “Alleged” Transgender Wife Of A Texas Firefighter And Inheritance

* Sabrina Hill’s Story Reminds Us Why Marriage Equality Is A Transgender Issue Too

* Trans Woman Denied The Fundamental Right To Marry In Reno, Nevada

* Question At The Marriage Chapel: “Are you a transsexual?”

* NCLR’s Shannon Minter at the Cali Transgender Leadership Summit: “Sure! I am a transgender man.”

* Profile: Join The Impact’s/San Diego’s Kelly Moyer
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright