WATCH: Nikki Araguz mobbed by TV reporters outside court appearance on theft charge

A day after her attorneys announced they’ll appeal a judge’s ruling declaring her marriage invalid, transsexual widow Nikki Araguz was arraigned today on a theft charge for allegedly stealing a Rolex watch fr0m a woman at a Houston bar in February.

The Houston Chronicle reports that although a filmmaker accompanied Araguz —  who plans a documentary and reality show — she declined to talk to the media. In the below video from ABC 13, Araguz shouts an expletive at TV cameramen who try to get in an elevator with her.

On Wednesday, Araguz’s attorneys said they’ll appeal a Wharton judge’s decision to deny her death benefits from her late husband, volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz III. In a setback for transgender equality, the judge declared the Araguzes’ marriage invalid because he said Araguz was born male.

Nikki Araguz is free on $2,000 bond on the theft charge.

—  John Wright

Transsexual widow Nikki Araguz to appeal Texas judge’s decision declaring her marriage invalid

Nikki Araguz

Transsexual widow Nikki Araguz plans to appeal a state district judge’s ruling last week declaring her marriage invalid and denying her death benefits from her husband.

Judge Randy Clapp, of the 329th Judicial District Court in Wharton County, ruled May 24 that Nikki Araguz is not entitled to death benefits from Thomas Araguz, a volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty last year.

Clapp declared the Araguzes’ marriage invalid because he said Nikki Araguz was born male and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriage.

In a press release sent out this afternoon, Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Frye and Associates, announced that they plan to appeal Clapp’s decision to the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi “in a timely manner.”

Nikki Araguz also issued her own press release, saying she is “completely devastated” by Clapp’s ruling and providing background about her marriage and the court case.

We’ve posted both press releases in their entirety after the jump.

—  John Wright

Transgender? Transsexual? The power of words in self-determination

Nikki Araguz

Early this week, we had a What’s Brewing post here on Instant Tea that included information about what was at the time a pending ruling from state District Judge Randy Clapp in Wharton on a lawsuit challenging Nikki Araguz’s right to the pension of her husband, a Wharton firefighter who had been killed in the line of duty.

In that first post, we used the term “transgender” to refer to Araguz, which is the general umbrella term that we use here at the Voice. We based that on conversations with advocates in the trans community who told us that “transgender” is an umbrella term that includes all those who are gender variant, while “transsexual” specifically refers to those who have fully transitioned or are in the process of transitioning.

So I was surprised to see comments to that first blog about Nikki Araguz taking us to task for describing her as “transgender” instead of using the term “transsexual,” and pointing out that Araguz had, in her personal blog, asked that the media refer to her as transsexual instead of transgender.

—  admin

Nikki Araguz faces theft charge

dead firefighter's transgender wife
Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz, the transsexual widow from Wharton who’s fighting to receive death benefits from her late husband, faces a felony theft charge for allegedly stealing a Rolex watch valued at $2,850 in February.

On Tuesday, a state district judge ruled that Araguz is not entitled to death benefits from volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz, who was killed in the line of duty last year. In a setback for transgender equality, the judge said the Araguzes’ marriage was not valid because Nikki Araguz was born a man.

While she was awaiting the judge’s ruling in the death benefits case, Nikki Araguz was arraigned on the felony theft charges last week, according to KHOU:

According to court documents filed by the Harris County District Attorney’s office, Araguz posted $2,000 bond May 18. The allegations date back to February when a woman claims she was “drugged” shortly after meeting Araguz and another woman, and that when she woke up, her expensive Rolex watch was gone. The watch is valued at $2,850.

Prosecutors say Araguz denied being involved in theft. But the employee of a Houston pawn shop testified that on March 1, Araguz came into his store trying to pawn a Rolex watch.

A court appearance on the theft allegation is scheduled for next month.

—  John Wright

Wharton judge rules against Nikki Araguz

Nikki Araguz

We’re a few hours late to this because I just emerged from the basement of the Interfaith Peace Chapel at the Cathedral of Hope, where about 50 people rode out a possible tornado immediately after Dallas Voice’s mayoral runoff forum.

Anyhow, State District Judge Randy Clapp today ruled against transsexual widow Nikki Araguz and declared her marriage invalid, meaning she cannot receive death benefits from her husband, a volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty last year. This ruling, a copy of which has not been released, was pretty much expected coming from a state district judge in Wharton, but Nikki Araguz says she’ll appeal the decision, and some observers say the case could wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We had a completely honest marriage, a 100 percent loving, honest marriage,” she said in a press release after the ruling. “I continue to grieve the loss of my husband and best friend. I consider this case not over and we will immediately file an appeal to the high court. With this ruling I continue to be reminded of the bias that exists toward transsexual and intersex people ignoring the laws of Texas that recognize their medical and surgical transition.

“Both myself and my family are grateful for the outpouring of understanding, kindness, sympathy, and support over the past year. I ask that you continue to hold me and Thomas in your heart and prayers,” Araguz said.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Judge orders El Paso to rescind DP benefits; ruling today in Nikki Araguz case

dead firefighter's transgender wife
Nikki Araguz

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The partners of gay city employees in El Paso — along with retired municipal workers and elected officials — are slated to lose their health insurance Aug. 1 under a decision handed down by a federal judge on Friday. U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo’s ruling upholds a ballot measure approved by El Paso voters in November calling for the city to support “traditional family values” by limiting health benefits to current city employees, their legal spouses and their dependent children. The ballot measure, sponsored by conservative religious groups, was aimed at rescinding domestic partner benefits for gay employees, which the City Council approved in 2009. However, because the measure was so vaguely worded, it also threatened benefits for retirees and elected officials. Affected parties filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the ballot measure violated their right to equal protection as well as their contract with the city’s insurance company, but Montalvo ruled against them. “This is an example of how direct democracy can have unexpected consequences,” Montalvo wrote. Read Montalvo’s full ruling by going here. Montalvo ordered the benefits to cease on Aug. 1, to give the affected parties time to purchase other health insurance. The ruling won’t apply to retired police officers and firefighters until the judge determines whether it would violate their collective bargaining agreement.

2. A state district judge in Wharton, Texas, is expected to rule this morning in the case of transgender widow Nikki Araguz, who’s fighting to receive death benefits from her husband, a volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty last  year. Meghan Stabler, a transgender board member for the Human Rights Campaign who’s been monitoring the Araguz case, said the following in an email late Monday: “We just received word this evening that Wharton Judge Randy Clapp will issue summary ruling Tuesday morning. On hearing this news Nikki commented that she was, ‘now reliving those traumatic first hours following her husband firefighter Captain Thomas Araguz’s death.’ She is hoping and praying for a positive ruling in her favor so she can finally grieve in peace. Will pass on more details when I can. Obviously Nikki is emotionally distraught right now and we are trying to calm her.” Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

3. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Monday overturning Nashville’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which bars city contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. Incidentally, Dallas has had a similar ordinance since 2002, but apparently it hasn’t been enforced because city officials and LGBT advocates weren’t aware of it until recently.

—  John Wright

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

Judge to rule in Nikki Araguz case next week

Nikki Araguz

We just received an update from Meghan Stabler, a board member for the Human Rights Campaign who’s been down in Wharton monitoring the proceedings in the Nikki Araguz case.

Araguz, of course, is the transgender widow who’s being sued by her deceased husband’s family to prevent her from receiving death benefits. A ruling was expected in the case today, but Stabler reports the district judge has put off his decision until next week.

Stabler said based on today’s proceedings, she believes the ruling will most likely go against Nikki Araguz, declaring her marriage invalid and denying her death benefits.

“From what I’m seeing, it doesn’t look good, but we’re going to continue fighting,” Stabler said. “I think the gist of it is, it seems like a foregone conclusion, but he didn’t issue a judgment.”

Stabler said expects the judge to issue his ruling sometime in the middle of next week. She added that both she and Araguz will participate in a rally in Austin on Sunday as part of the 2nd Annual Harvey Milk Day Conference.

“We’re expecting a ton of press for that,” Stabler said. “It’s already a foregone conclusion that if we close the case we’ll go ahead an appeal.”

UPDATE: Below is a report from Fox 26 on today’s proceedings:

No Ruling In Transgender Widow’s Case: MyFoxHOUSTON.com

—  John Wright

WATCH: Everyone’s reporting on Nikki Araguz’s reality show; no one’s reporting on her court case

Above is a report from Houston’s Fox 26 on Texas transgender widow Nikki Araguz’s plans for a reality show, Finding NIkki, which we first told you about Thursday.

Fox 26 also reports that there’s a book deal and a TV movie in the works for Araguz, whom it calls a “poster child for transgender rights.”

“I’ve gotten a lot of stalker men who’ve proposed marriage and proposed me moving all over the place,” Araguz says. “We’re going to see me going on dates. We’re going to see me lobbying Senate bills … ”

Despite all the media reports about Araguz’s reality show, we still haven’t seen any details about an apparent court date in Araguz’s case today, when a district judge in Wharton may rule whether on whether she’s entitled to death benefits from her husband, a volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty.

Araguz tells Fox 26 that if the judge rules against her, she plans to appeal.

Meanwhile, a Senate bill prompted by the Araguz case and aimed at barring transgender people from marrying people from the opposite sex, is all but dead in the Legislature. But none of the reports we’ve seen mention this minor detail, either.

UPDATE: Here’s a report from Meghan Stabler, a transgender woman who serves as a board member for the Human Rights Campaign:

Wharton court now breaking for lunch in Nikki Araguz’s hearing. Lots of reporters are outside waiting for news and many of the broadcast reporters have headed downstairs for their noon news live shot. Court session will resume at 1:15 p.m.

Nikki commented, “Tough morning in court and it has become clear according to the judge this case will be the defining case for marriage in Texas.”

—  John Wright

Trans widow Nikki Araguz is looking for a few good men — to date on her new reality show

Nikki Araguz

Cressandra Thibodeaux, a Houston-based filmmaker, sends along word that she’s partnering with transgender widow Nikki Araguz on a reality show called, Being Nikki.

Araguz, of course, made international news for her battle to receive death benefits after her husband, volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz, died in the line of duty last year.

Thomas Araguz’s family sued Nikki Araguz in an effort to prevent her from receiving death benefits, arguing that their marriage wasn’t valid because she is transgender. And the case led to a bill in the Texas Senate aimed at barring transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex, which sparked another round of media coverage.

But back to Being Nikki, which, according to Thibodeaux, will offer viewers “an honest, up-close and personal view at real life complexities of being a transsexual in this modern age.”

“Nikki has overcome many obstacles through her experiences, and is thoroughly comfortable with who she is,” Thibodeaux writes. “During the show you will get to see what dating is like for Nikki and getting a glimpse into her day-to-day life. As we move towards a transparent society, Nikki is looking for someone with whom to share her life, honestly, fully, and deeply.”

Specifically, the show is looking for contestants in the form of “single men willing to date the beautiful, dynamic, smart and driven woman — Nikki Araguz. We are looking for college-educated, physically fit, handsome men – a sense of humor is a must.”

The deadline for applications is July 1. For more, email info@beingnikki.com.

—  John Wright