Judge denies transgender widow Nikki Araguz’s motion for a new trial — after finally reading it

Judge Randy M. Clapp

Meghan Stabler reports that Wharton County District Judge Randy M. Clapp has denied transgender widow Nikki Araguz’s motion for a new trial.

Stabler, a board member for the Human Rights Campaign who’s been monitoring the case, said even though the motion was filed 10 days ago, Clapp hadn’t read it when he arrived in court for a hearing this morning. Clapp called for a recess so he could read the motion, then returned and promptly dismissed it, Stabler said.

In May, Clapp issued a summary judgment saying Araguz isn’t entitled to death benefits from her husband, fallen volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz III. Clapp ruled the Araguzes’ marriage was invalid since she was born male.

In light of today’s decision, Araguz’s legal team plans to appeal Clapp’s decision to Texas’ 13th circuit court in Corpus Christ, Stabler said.

Araguz is now being represented jointly by Haynes & Boone, Katine & Nechman, and Frye & Associates.

—  John Wright

If Nikki Araguz loses, all transgender people in Texas could effectively be de-transitioned

In the above video posted on YouTube last week, Cristan Willams of the Houston-based Transgender Foundation of America explains why the Nikki Araguz case is so critical to transgender rights in Texas. Araguz is the trans widow of a Wharton, Texas firefighter who died in the line of duty in July. The family of Araguz’s late husband has sued to prevent her from receiving death benefits, arguing that their marriage is void because she was born a man. And according to Williams, the case isn’t really about death benefits — it’s about the question of whether Araguz is a man or a woman in the eyes of the law. Williams warns that because Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently declined to weigh in on the matter, instead deferring to the courts, the fate of the state’s entire transgender population may now rest in the hands of a small-town Republican judge in Wharton. Scary, huh?

“If Nikki loses, you lose your legal status,” Williams says. “It doesn’t matter what your doctor says. It doesn’t matter what your chromosomes say. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re intersexed. It doesn’t matter if your birth certificate says you’re female when you’re male-to-female. It doesn’t matter. What will matter is that a small town judge has said that you’re legally male if you’re male-to-female. And that if you’re female to male, well, you’re legally a woman for the rest of eternity. That’s what this case is about, and I don’t know that people really understand that. … This case is huge. It affects the lives of thousands and thousands and thousands of people.”

Williams says LGBT and trans leaders will gather in Houston sometime in October to talk about the importance of the Araguz case. In the meantime, you may want to bookmark “The Trial of Nikki Araguz,” the blog devoted to tracking the proceedings.

—  John Wright

Fallen fireman’s ex-wife calls press conference to slam transgender widow Nikki Araguz

Heather Delgado, the ex-wife of fallen Texas firefighter Thomas Araguz III, held a press conference Thursday (video above) during which she slammed Araguz’s transgender widow, Nikki Araguz:

“She’s all about publicity and it’s been all about her from the beginning. And basically, she needs to understand it’s not only about her,” Delgado said.

Delgado and Thomas Araguz’s parents are trying to block Nikki Araguz from receiving death benefits. They allege that Thomas and Nikki Araguz’s marriage is void because she was born a man.

Earlier this week, The Houston Chronicle reported that Thomas Araguz testified during a deposition in March that he didn’t know his wife was transgender. Thomas Araguz’s deposition was part of a custody dispute involving his two sons with Delgado, who was seeking to keep the boys away from Nikki:

“That deposition is a lie,” Nikki Araguz said from her Wharton home Monday night.

“At the time, Thomas and I thought it was in the best interest of our children to lie. They were the center of (our) lives,” she said.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Fallen fireman’s trans widow speaks out

In the comments to our post below, GlindaG points us to the above video of a full-length interview with Nikki Araguz, the transgender widow of fallen Texas firefighter Thomas Araguz III.

In the 16-minute interview, during which she chokes up repeatedly, Araguz explains that she has neither male nor female reproductive organs. She says she was born with male genitalia that progressed to the point of a 2-year-old’s.

“I had the operation two months after our marriage, and my husband was fully aware, and the birth defect that I had essentially was not a problem to my husband,” she says. “He was proud to be my husband as much as I was proud to be his wife.”

Pressed by the reporter about whether she was born male, Araguz responds: “I do not and have not ever considered myself in that way, but I understand that some people are explaining it like that. And what I’d like to say is that essentially I had a disorder much like anyone else who was born with a birth defect of any kind — no arm, six toes, no vision, OK? There was an anatomical birth defect that was underdeveloped beyond the age of 2 years old.”

At the end of the interview, Araguz vows to continue fighting her husband’s family’s effort to deny her death benefits, because she says that’s what he would have wanted.

“I’m deeply, deeply devastated by the loss of my husband,” she says. “I have not even had the opportunity to grieve, and I’m having to deal with this awful, awful situation. I love you, my sweet husband, may you rest in peace.”

—  John Wright

Fallen firefighter’s parents file lawsuit to prevent transgender widow from receiving death benefits

Thomas Araguz III and Nikki Araguz.

The parents of a Houston-area firefighter who died in the line of duty are trying to prevent his transgender widow from receiving death benefits, The Houston Chronicle reports. Chad Ellis, an attorney for the firefighter’s parents, claims he didn’t find out his wife was born a man until a few months before he was killed in a fire in July. But the man’s widow, Nikki Araguz, says he knew she was transgender before they married in 2008:

The lawsuit, slated for Friday in Wharton County District Court, leans on 1999 state case law prohibiting same-sex marriage and maintaining a person’s gender forever remains the same as it was at birth, Ellis said.

“We are not blazing new legal ground here,” Ellis said.

Nikki Araguz declined Sunday to discuss her gender history, and insisted that her husband knew everything about her personal life when they married in August 2008. She also said the couple was not separated.

“We had a completely honest marriage, a 100 percent loving, honest marriage,” she said. “I am grieving the loss of my husband and best friend.”

The 1999 case law referenced in the Chronicle story is Littleton v. Prange out of San Antonio. But our understanding is that this case isn’t binding for courts in other parts of the state.

Clearly if Mr. Araguz knew his wife was transgender, she should be entitled to death benefits. But what about if he didn’t? Does it really matter?

UPDATE: The Transgender Foundation of America has issued the following statement:

TFA Demands Justice for Wharton Widow
Houston, Texas – July 19, 2010 – The Transgender Foundation of America (TFA) is sad to learn of the untimely death of Thomas Araguz III, a heroic firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. Additionally, we are saddened to learn of a second tragedy unfolding in Wharton County involving the Araguz’s grieving widow and her in-laws.

Immediately after the death of Araguz, the in-laws came out of the woodwork in an effort to defame the marriage of a fallen hero. The in-laws have claimed that Mrs. Araguz is a post-operative male-to-famale transgender woman and as such, they claim the marriage is invalid and that they are entitled to the married couple’s home, belongings and financial assets.

“It is an affront to common decency that Mrs. Araguz’s in-laws have turned this tragedy into a money-grab”  said Cristan Williams, the Executive Director of TFA .  “I have spoken with Nikki and I find the actions of her in-laws repugnant. I call upon common sense and decency to prevail in this case.  Mrs. Araguz should be left alone to grieve the death of her heroic husband with the support of her friends and of her church.”

At the heart of this attempt to swipe the property and money of a grieving widow lies the assumption that the chromosomes of Nikki Araguz must be XY and that chromosomes equal sex, a long debunked test that virtually all medical experts and sports authorities have abandoned. In 1999, the Olympic Committee along with many other federations dropped chromosome testing as a viable sex test all together.

The flawed ideology Mrs. Araguz’s in-laws wish to use in their bid for the couple’s belongings is based on a 1999 San Antonio ruling that declares that the position of the court is that women like Mrs. Araguz may only marry other women, which would also deny the right of marriage to all inter-sexed citizens of the State of Texas.

“TFA hopes that the Texas judicial system will quickly dismiss this frivolous attempt to rob Mrs. Araguz of her rightful possessions” said Williams.  “I cannot imagine the tremendous pain that she must be going through, being attacked by her own family during her time of mourning.”

—  John Wright