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

We Were Here, AIDS documentary at 14 Pews

We Were HereWe Were Here, the award winning documentary of the early days of the AIDS crisis, premiers at 14 Pews theater (800 Aurora) Saturday, November 20, at 4:30 pm. The film, from director David Weissman, will be proceeded by a panel discussion on the state of the AIDS crisis today.

I came out in 1998, right at the tail end of the worst days of the AIDS crisis. I remember, with vivid clarity, the days of the walking wounded: when every other gay man I met would tell how their doctor said they should have died five years ago, when the community told time by recalling if an event took place before or after a certain person’s funeral.

Fortunately those days are largely behind us, but as new HIV infections continue to rise and we struggle to maintain funding for medications that are keeping people alive (at a cost of thousands of dollars a month), it’s important that we never forget the early days of the pandemic. For people of my generation and younger the mysterious “Gay Plague” that threatened our community in the early eighties can seem more like a fairy tale monster than the horrifying crisis it was, and is.

We Were Here tells the real life stories of five people who survived. Their mundane and profound recollections highlight, not only their personal experiences, but the broad political and social upheavals unleashed by the crisis. From their different vantage points as caregivers, activists, researchers, as friends and lovers of the afflicted, and as people with AIDS themselves, the interviewees share stories which are not only intensely personal, but which also illuminate the much larger themes of that era: the political and sexual complexities, and the terrible emotional toll. The film highlights the role of women – particularly lesbians – in caring for and fighting for their gay brothers.

Tickets for We Were Here are $10 and can be purchased at 14pews.org.

After the jump watch the trailer for We Were Here.

—  admin

Death • 09.30.11

Wendy Churitch, 55, died suddenly at her home in Irving early Thursday morning, Sept. 29.

Churitch was born July 26, 1956, and grew up in Chicago. She moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in 1980.

She was known and much loved for her eccentric and ever-present sense of humor, her love of pranks and practical jokes and for her devotion and loyalty to her family and to her large number of friends that she thought of — and that thought of her — as family.

After seven-and-a-half years as a couple, Churitch and the love of her life, Kay Mathews Churitch, were legally married in Iowa on Aug. 17, 2009.

Churitch was preceded in death by her parents, Helen and Pete Churitch Sr., and by her brother, Michael.

She is survived by her wife, Kay Mathews Churitch of Irving; by her brother, Pete Churitch Jr., and one sister, Robin Littrell, both of Indiana; by her wife’s sister, Erin Urquhart of Coppell, and brother, Robert Mathews of Buda; by her wife’s two daughters, Courtney Mathews of Lubbock and Amber Mathews of Three Rivers, Mich., and three grandchildren, Michael and Jourdan of Mesquite and Makenzie of Lubbock; by her beloved dogs, Bailey and Pala; and by a host of loving friends.

Churitch’s remains will be cremated. A memorial service is pending and details will be announced when they become available.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

UPDATE: Suspect arrested in D.C. shooting

Police in Washington, D.C., have charged Darryl Willard with “assault with intent to kill while armed,” in connection with the shooting early Monday of a transgender woman in southeast D.C.

Washington, D.C. police are investigating the death of this unidentified person who was found wearing facial make-up and carrying a pair of light-colored heels

According to the Washington Post, after being shot at about 1:50 a.m. in the 2300 block of Savannah Street SE, the victim walked to the Seventh District Police Headquarters to report the crime. The Post reports that the victim knew her attacker and gave his name to police. Willard later turned himself in to authorities.

The victim, who is not named in the newspaper’s article, was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover from her injuries.

In the meantime, police continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a man whose body was found early Saturday, according to reports by the Associated Press. Police said that when the man’s body was found, he had makeup on his face and had with him a pair of light-colored high-heel shoes. The man appears to be Hispanic or Middle Eastern and between the ages of 25 and 30.

Police said they have no information on whether the dead man was gay or transgender, and that his body showed no signs of trauma.

The Monday shooting was the fourth time in less than two months that a transgender woman has been shot or shot at in the D.C. area. On July 20, Lashai Mclean died after being shot by a man who approached her as she walked with a friend in the city’s Northeast section. The man asked Mclean a question and then pulled a gun and shot her before she could answer, according to the friend, who was uninjured.

Eleven days later and just blocks away from the site of Mclean’s murder, a suspect approached another trans woman, asked for change and then pulled a gun and shot at her before she could answer. The shot missed and the woman was uninjured.

And in August, a D.C. police officer on medical leave was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon after he stood on the hood of a car and fired into the car containing two men and two trans women. One of the men was injured slightly in the attack.

—  admin

DEATH: Paul David Tomko

Paul David Tomko, 41, of Dallas died on Aug. 19.

He was born in El Paso and graduated from Irvin High School and University of Texas in El Paso.

Tomko had lived in Dallas for the past 10 years. He worked as a senior IBM consultant, and previously had worked as a project manager at CPM, and before that worked at White Sands Missile Range.

Tomko was preceded in death by his mother, Dorothy Tomko.

He is survived by his father, Donald Tomko; brothers, Jackie Tomko, Donald Tomko Jr., DwayneTomko and Jammye Tomko; nieces, Megan Tomko and Samantha Tomko; and many aunts, uncles and friends.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Aug. 27 at 11 a.m. at North Dallas Funeral Home, 2710 Valley View Lane.

Tomko was a frequent donor to AIDS Inerfaith Network, Resource Center Dallas and Genesis Women’s Shelter and donations in his memory can be made to any of these organizations.

—  John Wright

Broken Mould

Queer punk pioneer Bob Mould turned an abusive childhood into a musical movement, but memoir targets hardcore fans

2.5 out of 5 stars
SEE A LITTLE LIGHT: THE TRAIL OF RAGE AND MELODY
By Bob Mould (with Michael
Azerrad). 2001 (Little, Brown)
$25; 404 pp.

………………………….
It all starts with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It continues with the itsy-bitsy spider, the ABCs and being a little teapot. From there, you embrace whatever your older siblings are listening to until you develop your own musical tastes. Maybe you started with records, moved on to the cassette tapes, CD and now, your iPod is full.

The point is, you’ve never been without your tunes.

But what about the people who make the music you love?

When Mould was born in 1960 in the northernmost end of New York, he entered a family wracked with grief: Just before he was born, Mould’s elder brother died of kidney cancer. He surmises that the timing of his birth resulted in his being a “golden child,” the family peacekeeper who sidestepped his father’s physical and psychological abuse.

“As a child,” he writes, “music was my escape.”

Mould’s father, surprisingly indulgent, bought his son guitars and young Bob taught himself to play chords and create songs. By the time he entered high school, Mould knew that he had to get out of New York and away from his family. He also knew he was gay, which would be a problem in his small hometown.

He applied for and entered college in Minnesota, where he started taking serious guitar lessons and drinking heavily. His frustrations led him to launch a punk rock band that made a notable impact on American indie music.

Named after a children’s game, Hüsker Dü performed nationally and internationally, but Mould muses that perhaps youth was against them. He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with his bandmates, and though he had become the band’s leader, there were resentments and accusations until the band finally split.

HUSKER DON’T | Bob Mould turned his youthful rage and homosexuality into a music career. (Photo by Noah Kalina)

But there were other bands and there were other loves than music, as Mould grew and learned to channel the rage inside him and the anger that volcanoed from it.

“I spent two years rebuilding and reinventing myself,” writes Mould. “Now that I’ve integrated who I am and what I do, I finally feel whole.”

If you remember with fondness the ‘80s, with its angry lyrics and mosh pits, then you’ll love this book. For most readers, though, See a Little Light is going to be a struggle. Mould spends a lot of time on a litany of clubs, recording studios, and locales he played some 30 years ago — which is fine if you were a fellow musician or a rabid, hardcore fan. This part of the book goes on… and on… and on, relentlessness and relatively esoteric in nature.

Admittedly, Mould shines when writing about his personal life but even so, he’s strangely dismissive and abrupt with former loves, bandmates, and even family. I enjoyed the occasional private tale; unfortunately there were not enough.

Overall, See a Little Light is great for Mould fanboys and those were heavy into the punk scene. For most readers, though, this book is way out of tune.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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

DEATHS: James ‘Kissey’ Olson, James Edward ‘Beaux’ Geer, Ray ‘Alpha Pup’ Witt

James “Kissey” Olson, 62, died at his home in Dallas on March 30 after recently being diagnosed with liver cancer.

Olson was native of Iron River, Mich. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Air Force for six years. He went to work for AT&T, living in Phoeniz, Little Rock and finally Dallas, where he retired.

He had lived in the Dallas area for more than 24 years.

His home here was party central and was always open to his many friends who will miss his and his hospitality.

Olson is survived by his mother, Minnie, and sisters, Ruth and Doris, of Iron River; his brother, Ron, of Milwaukee; his ex-wife, Jo, of Yuma, Az.; his two children, Scott and Amy of Phoenix, and six grandchildren; and his beloved Chihuahua, Moose.

Olson was cremated and his ashes were buried at Iron River. A celebration of his life will be held on the patio at The Hidden Door, 5025 Bowser St., on Saturday, April 30, at 2 p.m.

 

James Edward “Beaux” Geer, 46, died April 13.

Geer worked as a hairdresser with Salon D for 23 years. He was also an artist who founded “Healing Texas through the Arts” to showcase new artists and make their works available to the public.

Geer was truly loved by friends and family, and he had an innocent sweetness of spirit and extraordinary talent that turned everything he touched into a thing of beauty. His paintings provided a view into his soul. He will be profoundly missed by those who knew him and will keep him forever in their hearts.

Geer is survived by his mother and stepfather, Bill and Millie Ritter of Plano; his father, Thomas Geer, Lafayette, La.; his brother Greg “Blackie” Geer, wife Kayce, daughter Typhane and grandson Thor, all of Austin; his best friend and brother-of-the heart, Dale Hall; and a host of other family and friends. Plans are pending for a celebration of life memorial gathering.

 

Ray “Alpha Pup” Witt, 59, died March 30 from an apparent stroke. Witt, loving boy and partner to Daddy Ron Hertz of Dallas and a member of the Dallas leather community, was a former member of Discipline Corps and NLA-Dallas. He held the first International Puppy title presented in 2001, thus becoming the “Alpha Pup.” His gift for storytelling and his warm heart endeared him to many in the community and his presence will be missed.Witt is survived by his partner of 9 ½ years, Ron Hertz of Dallas; his mother, Duluth Witt of Lexington, Ky.; and his canine friend “Mugsy.” A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

 

—  John Wright

Death: Burleigh John ‘B.J.’ Smith

Burleigh John “B.J.”  Smith, 62, of Dallas died March 29 from complications due to liver cancer.

Born in Shreveport to the late Bernard Cyril and Gwendolyn Smith, B.J.Smith worked 20 years for Cinemark Theaters as a film buyer before retiring in early 2010. He had a very outgoing and uplifting personality and he never met a stranger. His hobbies and interests included singing with the Turtle Creek Chorale for 11 years, movies, traveling, cooking and enjoying food and wine with friends.

He is survived by his partner of 31 years, Dennis Bellotto,; his sister Lynn Norton and family of Flower Mound; his brother Barney Smith and family of San Antonio; and his cherished cat Lance.

In lieu of flowers, Smith requested that memorial donations be made to AMFAR www.amfar.org or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society www.lls.org. No formal memorial service is planned at this time.

—  John Wright