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

Top 10: Trans widow continued her fight

araguz2

VOWING TO WIN | Nikki Araguz says she will appeal her case all the way to he U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. (Courtesy of Nikki Araguz)

No. 8

The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but how will the state define “man” and “woman”?

Transgender marriage cases in Dallas and Houston could force the Texas Supreme Court — or even the U.S. Supreme Court — to ultimately decide the thorny issue.

In Houston, transgender widow Nikki Araguz has appealed a district judge’s ruling denying her death benefits from her late husband, Thomas Araguz III, a volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty in 2010.

The judge, Randy Clapp, granted summary judgment to Thomas Araguz’s family, which filed a lawsuit alleging the couple’s 2008 marriage is void because Nikki Araguz was born male, and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriage.

The Araguz family’s argument relies heavily on a San Antonio appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, which found that gender is determined at birth and cannot be changed.

However, LGBT advocates say the Littleton ruling is unconstitutional, goes against medical science and isn’t binding in other parts of the state, where it has not always been followed.

In Dallas, a district judge apparently reached the opposite conclusion from Clapp this November — denying a similar motion for summary judgment.

James Allan Scott, a transgender man, is seeking a divorce settlement from his wife of 13 years, Rebecca Louise Robertson. However, Robertson wants to have the marriage declared void because Scott was born a biological female.

District Judge Lori Chrisman denied Robertson’s motion for summary judgment, which leaned heavily on Littleton. The judge provided no explanation for her ruling allowing the matter to proceed as a divorce, at least for now.

It’s unclear whether Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott plans to intervene in the Dallas case. Abbott has intervened in same-sex divorce cases in Austin and Dallas, seeking to block them. But thus far he has stayed above the fray on transgender marriage, even though it presents overlapping issues.

After a transgender woman and a cisgender woman applied for a marriage license in 2010, the El Paso County clerk requested a ruling from Abbott about whether to grant it. But Abbott opted not to weigh in, with his office saying it would instead wait for court rulings in the Araguz case. The El Paso couple was later able to marry in San Antonio, where the county clerk went by Littleton v. Prange.

In response to the Araguz case, a bill was introduced in the Texas Legislature this year to ban transgender marriage. The bill would have removed proof of a sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses. Strongly opposed by LGBT advocates, it cleared a Senate committee but never made it to the floor.

Trans advocates said the bill also would have effectively prohibited the state from recognizing their transitioned status — or, who they are — for any purpose.

The problem for socially conservative lawmakers is, they can’t have it both ways. Marriage is a fundamental right that courts have said can’t be taken away from a person completely. So no matter what, Texas will be forced to allow a version of same-sex marriage.

Which is why some believe the cases could help undo the marriage amendment.

— John Wright

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Hearing today on bill aimed at preventing transgender people in Texas from marrying

dead firefighter's transgender wife
Nikki Araguz

A bill that would prevent some transgender people in Texas from obtaining marriage licenses will be heard by a Senate committee this afternoon.

The bill is an apparent response to the case of Nikki Araguz, the transgender widow from Wharton County. Araguz was sued by the family of her husband, a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty, to prevent her from obtaining death benefits.

Senate Bill 723, by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would remove a court order of sex change from the list of identifitying documents that can be presented to obtain marriage licenses in Texas.

The Transgender Education Network of Texas sent out an alert this morning asking people to call the members of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence and urge them to kill the bill in committee. The committee members can be reached at 512-463-4630. The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. and can be viewed live here. Here are instructions for calling from TENT:

IDENTIFY: yourself by name, any organization you represent, and town from which you are calling
EXPLAIN: “I am calling to oppose Senate Bill: SB 723 as it is an injustice to trans identified people in the state of Texas” Be polite and concise, concentrate on 1 or 2 talking points you wish to make.
REQUEST: A written response to your phone call.
THANK: the person who took the phone call for their time and consideration.
Repeat for each member of the committee
In the Austin area: Go by the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence meeting on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm room 2E.20 (Betty King Cmte. Rm.) of the Capitol and submit a testimony card AGAINST SB 723.

 

—  John Wright

Texas Transgender Summit attendees on Nikki Araguz case: Littleton v. Prange is bunk

Dozens of individuals and organizations meeting at the Second Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit in Houston issued a joint statement Thursday on the Nikki Araguz case. In case you missed it, Araguz is the transgender widow of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who died in the line of duty earlier this month. Thomas Araguz’s is family is suing Nikki Araguz in an effort to prevent her from receiving death benefits, alleging that the marriage was invalid. Below is the full text of the statement. For a list of signatories, go here.

HOUSTON, Texas (July 22, 2010) — We, the attendees of the Second Annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, issue this statement to demonstrate our support for Mrs. Nikki Araguz and to call attention to her plight and that of all transgender people in the state of Texas.

Mrs. Nikki Araguz legally married a man, and her marriage has been recognized under the laws of the state of Texas. Nikki’s husband, a fireman in Wharton County, tragically was killed in the line of duty, and now other parties are attempting to use the courts to have her marriage legally overturned in an effort to deny her inheritance and insurance.

These parties are claiming that Nikki is not legally a woman under Texas law. Nikki’s opponents are attempting to use an obscure Texas case, Littleton v. Prange (1999), to declare that her marriage should be invalid. The Littleton case says that a person’s gender is determined by chromosomes, not physical attributes. The Littleton case was decided to deny a transgender woman her right to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of her husband — even though Littleton had legally changed her gender and had been legally married in Texas.

The Littleton case was wrongfully decided at the time, and if taken literally stands for the proposition that a transgender person cannot marry anyone, of either gender, under Texas law. Clearly, this is wrong. Denying anyone the right to marry whom they love is a violation of the most basic freedoms under our laws. To deny the validity of an existing, legal marriage, after one of the spouses has died, as justification for the redistribution of inheritance and insurance, is abhorrent to the values of common decency, fair play, and justice that most Texans hold dear.

We, the attendees of this Summit, extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Araguz, and call for the swift dismissal of this lawsuit so that Mrs. Araguz may be left to mourn her loss in private without distraction or worry for her financial stability.

If necessary, we also call for the courts to consider the Littleton case superseded by the recent changes to the Texas Family Code that recognize a court ordered gender change as definitive proof of identity.

Sadly, discrimination against people because of either their gender identity or expression is common. There are few laws in the state of Texas to address this need. The purpose of our Summit is to find ways to help people confront and overcome the issues now facing all transgender people in Texas and, tragically, Mrs. Nikki Araguz.

—  John Wright