Son of a beach

A family vacation proves unexpectedly gay as Myrtle Beach, S.C., gets Pride

RAINBOW TOUR | Nearly 200 beachcombers — including the author (dark green, just right of center) — stepped away from the surf and gathered in a field to form a human rainbow flag.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., had more to do with a family reunion than finding a good destination for gay travelers. After all, Myrtle Beach is a pretty lazy, conservative town in the perennial Red State, one where teenaged spring breakers and families gather to enjoy the warm surf and the resort-town appeal of seafood and beachcombing and overpriced cocktails. Queer travelers can hit one of the three gay bars, all within blocks of each other — Club Traxx, Time Out! and the Rainbow House (a lesbian club).

But the weekend I arrived , just by coincidence, it turned out to be Gay Pride.

Keep in mind, the gay community in Myrtle Beach is small, so “Gay Days,” plural, felt more like Gay Day, singular: One major event and then life as usual in Coastal Carolina.

The major event, though, was an ambitious one: Gathering members of the LGBT community and their allies to form a “human rainbow flag:” People signed up to wear a pastel-colored T-shirt and arrange themselves in the traditional configuration. A few others wore black, forming the flagpole.

The entire event was threatened by showers late Friday and early Saturday, but despite a slightly muddy field, nearly 200 people turned out, huddled closely on a muggy afternoon, while a photographer flew above in a helicopter.

Numbers weren’t uniform; there were too many reds and too few purples; but the effect was one of a flag waving in the breeze.

In order to do the shoot, members faced each other before bending forward to allow the broad field of their shirts to form the colors. Directly across from me stood Elke Kennedy, a resident of Greenville in the Upstate. Elke and her husband established SeansLastWish.org, raising awareness of anti-gay violence, after their gay son was beaten to death and his killer spent less than a year in jail.

Elke spoke at a rally following the photoshoot, and dozens in attendance listened to her recount her  son’s harrowing attack and death before two drag queens performed and a DJ spun dance hits. People started to file out after a while, off to the beach, or the clubs, or even the boardwalk, where the Texas Star-like Skywheel gives great views of the beach … and sits next door to the campily named souvenir shop the Gay Dolphin.

The latter was always may favorite place when I was growing up; you’d think my parents would have caught on sooner.

Click here for additional photos.

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

ACLU Challenges State of Missouri on Behalf of Dead Trooper’s Husband

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the state of Missouri’s Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol Employees’ Retirement System on behalf of a surviving same-sex partner of a highway trooper killed on the job.

From the ACLU:

Kelly Glossip and Dennis Engelhard had been committed domestic partners for 15 years when Dennis, a Missouri State Trooper, was killed while responding to an accident on Christmas Day, 2009. Missouri offers survivor benefits to spouses of state troopers who are killed in the line of duty, but excludes committed same-sex partners from receiving those benefits.

If Kelly and Dennis had been a heterosexual married couple, Kelly would be entitled to an annuity of 50 percent of Dennis’ average salary-support that would help Kelly pay the mortgage on the home that he and Dennis jointly owned.

The Officer Down Memorial Page has information on Edward Englehard here. It makes mention of his life partner and step-son. Press release after the fold.

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Kelly Glossip, whose partner, Dennis Engelhard, was a state trooper killed in the line of duty while responding to an accident on Christmas Day of last year. Missouri offers survivor benefits to spouses of state troopers who are killed in the line of duty, but excludes committed same-sex partners from receiving those benefits. Glossip is seeking the same survivor benefits provided to opposite-sex partners.

“Dennis and I loved each other and lived in a committed relationship for 15 years. We depended on each other emotionally and financially in our life together like any other committed couple. We exchanged rings and would have married in Missouri if the state didn’t exclude us from marriage,” said Glossip. “I’m just seeking the same financial protections the state provides to heterosexual couples. It is hard enough coping with the grief of losing Dennis. It is even more painful to have the state treat Dennis and me as though we were total strangers.”

Spouses of Missouri State Highway Patrol employees are entitled to an annuity of 50 percent of the employee’s average salary if the employee is killed on duty. Since Engelhard’s death, Glossip has struggled with paying the mortgage on the home they both owned. While Glossip is not challenging the definition of marriage under Missouri law, he is challenging the benefits policy as a violation of his rights under the Missouri Constitution.

“Dennis and Kelly were a family in every sense of the word,” said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “They owned a home together, shared cars and bank accounts, and Dennis even helped Kelly care for his child from a former marriage. They vowed to take care of each other in good times and in bad. As a matter of basic fairness, Kelly should be entitled to the same security as other bereaved partners of troopers killed in the line of duty.”

Engelhard was struck by a vehicle while responding to an accident on Christmas Day, 2009. Following his death, the governor ordered all U.S. and Missouri flags to be flown at half-staff. Kelly attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in May 2010 commemorating the loss of police officers nationwide, and was recognized with a medallion as Engelhard’s surviving partner.

“Kelly is merely seeking the same treatment he would have received if his partner had been a woman, rather than a man,” said Anthony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Kelly may not have been able to marry the person of his choice under Missouri state law, but he is still entitled to equal protection and the fundamental right to the family relationship he formed with Dennis Engelhard. He is seeking the same dignity and security for his family that is granted to other state troopers’ families.”

Attorneys on the case include Rothert and Grant R. Doty of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Stephen Douglas Bonney of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, Knight and Joshua Block of the ACLU LGBT Project and Roger K. Heidenreich of SNR Denton.

From local news coverage of this story:

Glossip said his relationship with Engelhard was no secret at the Highway Patrol. Glossip was listed as Engelhard’s emergency contact. They showed up together at a Fourth of July party attended by several other troopers. A room full of troopers mourned with Glossip at the hospital where Engelhard was pronounced dead.


“I’d take 100 Dennis Engelhards. He was an outstanding trooper,”
said Capt. Ronald Johnson, head of the Highway Patrol troop that covers St. Louis and surrounding counties. “His lifestyle had no bearing on his career.”

People who deliver first-class service to the country, do not deserve second-class rewards in return. Our families deserve better from our country.

Thanks to ACLU for stepping up yet again and making the case. Our future may indeed lie in the courts. Particularly when you contrast this action with the reaction of our elected leaders, as quote din the article linked above:

“The partner, plain and simple, is out of luck,” said state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, one of a few openly gay Missouri state legislators. “I’m outraged that that’s the situation, but it’s the status of the law.”

ACLU is fast-becoming the most aggressive gay rights organization on the block, after challenges to DOMA, the Department of Defense compensation policy and DADT. You might consider becoming a card-carrying member of the ACLU.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Has Hillary Clinton Evolved on Marriage Equality Like Her Husband?

Clinton

I posted a humorous interview last week of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip to Australia. Another interview she did took a more serious turn.

The marriage equality debate in Australia is really heating up at the moment. One young Australian asked her where she stands on the issue during a youth town hall.

Her answer, AFTER THE JUMP



Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Watch: Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and Husband J.D. Angle on ‘The Last Word’

Angle_burns

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and his husband J.D. Angle appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell to talk about Burns' viral speech about bullying. Angle says he didn't know that Joel had even written the speech till just before he delivered it. Angle also says that he hadn't heard Joel's bullying story in 17 years of marriage.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP



Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios Divorcing Husband

Sad words in today's Boston Globe from GLAAD President Jarret Barrios:

Barrios I was one of the first elected officials in the country to marry his same-sex partner. In part because there were so many naysayers, we worked to be a model couple — with each of us trying be the perfect husband. Like other lesbian and gay couples, we hoped to show our relationships for what they are: loving partnerships that deserve the possibility of “happily ever after” that marriage promises.

But as our families continue the march towards equality, the gay and lesbian community often doesn’t talk about divorce, even though some of the most important protections associated with marriage are exercised at the end of a relationship — protections that help the more economically vulnerable partner, give a formula for sharing the care of the children, and establish how two people can disentangle a life’s worth of acquisitions, compromises, and dreams.

Just as gay and lesbian couples share the joys of marriage, we will share the pain of divorce, something for which we have no template. Divorce plumbs impossible depths of sadness. It involves separating the dishes and the books and all the other things you acquired back when you both still felt the lightness of love, asserting to a judge at a public trial that, yes, your marriage has broken down irretrievably, and telling your parents whose marriage of 47 years hangs heavy over your anemic explanations to them.

Read the rest here. Barrios and his partner were together for 16 years and married for five.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright