Top 10: County, DISD, FWISD added trans protections

TransProtections

STRIKING A POSE | LGBT activists celebrate outside the Dallas County Administration Building in April, after the Commissioners Court voted to add transgender protections to the county’s employment nondiscrimination policy. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

No. 6

Although transgender rights continue to be the last frontier in the ongoing battle for LGBT equality, the trans community made significant progress in North Texas in 2011.

The all-too-familiar scenario of transgender being left out of laws protecting lesbians and gays played out in March when the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted in favor of adding sexual orientation — but not gender identity and  expression — to the nondiscrimination policy covering the county’s roughly 7,000 employees.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia, two Democrats who spearheaded the addition of sexual orientation to the policy, said they had not been aware of the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

But after Dallas Voice reported on the oversight, LGBT advocates went back to the court to insist that commissioners correct the omission.

Republican Commissioner Maureen Dickey added insult to injury during an April Commissioners Court meeting when she not only announced she would vote against trans protections, but also compared being transgender to being overweight.

But on April 26 — after activists spoke at several consecutive meetings in an effort coordinated by Resource Center Dallas — the court voted 3-2 along party lines to add trans protections. Jenkins, Garcia and Commissioner John Wiley Price voted in favor of trans protections, while Dickey and fellow Republican Mike Cantrell voted against them.

Dallas County is the only county in the state with a trans-inclusive employment nondiscrimination policy — and momentum from the decision appeared to spread as the year went forward.

In late June, the Fort Worth school board added gender identity and expression to the district’s anti-bullying policy. And in early August, shortly before the start of a new school year, came news that the Dallas school board would consider a series of policy changes intended to protect transgender students, faculty and other employees from discrimination and harassment. The vote to add the protections came on Aug. 25.

The wave of transgender victories hit a small snag in November, when the Dallas County Community College District initially refused to add trans protections, insisting that the district’s protections based on sexual orientation covered trans people. But after another effort coordinated by the Resource Center, DCCCD President Wright Lassiter announced in November that an amendment to the district’s nondiscrimination policy to specifically protect transgender people is on the agenda for the board’s January meeting.

— Tammye Nash

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

 

—  Kevin Thomas

FAMILY LIFE: What’s in a name (change)?

DRACONIS VON TRAPP | Intern
intern@dallasvoice.com

When two people enter into a legal Texas marriage, the paperwork gives them the option to change their last name. But in Texas, even the most devoted same-sex couples don’t get this luxury.

In order to do the traditional surname change, same-sex couples have to file a separate petition.

As a young transgentleman starting school soon, I didn’t want any more school experiences where roll was called and I had to answer to “Alora Clemmons.” Of course, they would use my nickname if I asked them to. But I would still be in their databases — and their minds — as “Alora.”

This was simply not going to happen. So I set out on the journey of legally changing my name.

The process of legally changing your name is tedious and difficult. I had next to no help on this journey, and making your way through the Dallas legal system is the equivalent of trying to swim through molasses.

To start, you have to actually have the paperwork. I Google’d my fingers off trying to find specific step-by-step directions, But since the procedure is different for every state, there were very few specifics available on legally changing your name, as an adult, in Dallas.

I considered hiring a lawyer. The one I contacted — who had legal name changes specifically listed on his website as something he was amazing at — said he’d be perfectly willing to give me a hand. If that I paid him $1,500.

Like that was happening.

Many legal websites had the paperwork available for download, all ranging in cost from $50 to $80 per form. While I seriously considered this option, I kept thinking to myself, “There’s gotta be a better way.”

Luckily, my gender therapist, Feleshia Porter, had a link on her website to the papers I’d need, for the low cost of about $10. That seemed perfectly reasonable and I eagerly downloaded the papers and printed them out.

You get two documents: The petition and the order for a name change. The order pretty much asks the same stuff as the petition, but with slightly different wording to make sure all the information in your petition is true.

The petition has to be notarized. They’ll do it at the court building for $8, but it’s usually free at your bank. Make sure you get copies made of both the petition and the order.

The Dallas County District Court is located downtown at 600 Commerce Street, and parking is almost impossible. It may be easier if you just have someone drop you off and pick you up, or else you risk having to pay for parking, having to parking 10 blocks away, or getting towed for accidentally parking on the wrong half of the street.

Assuming you’ve got all the papers filled out and notarized, the clerk will ask you to pay a filing fee, which is about $240. They don’t take credit or debit cards, so make sure you have cold, hard cash or your checkbook handy.

Once that’s done, they’ll give you a copy of the petition with your case number and a stamp that says “303rd District Court.” The clerk will tell you where to go, which is just up a few floors to the courtroom.

Find the door that has “303” written on it and go sit inside. If the judge isn’t already dealing with another case, you just wait patiently for the judge to call you up.

This part is relatively painless. Assuming you’re not changing your name to Tom Cruise or Superman, the judge will give you the OK, and you get a packet including the step-by-step process of legal name changes and a fingerprint card for a criminal background check.

You can take this card to any police station and they’ll fingerprint you for about $10. The return address will already be on the fingerprint card so you can send it back to the 303rd District Court.

After you wash the ink off your fingers, you’re going to have to mail off a payment to the DPS to process your fingerprints. This costs about $40 and payment must be either a cashier’s check or a money order. Include this in an envelope with your fingerprint card and mail it off to the address listed in the name change paper.

The turnaround time for a name change is between one and three months, but usually it doesn’t take longer than one month. However, you have to call the court and ask about the progress of your background check because they won’t call you.

When it’s gone through, they’ll give you a hearing date. Bring in the copies of your order and address the judge as “Your honor.” Once you get the OK from there, you’ll be sent to another judge to get the ball rolling on changing your driver’s license and all that business.

It’s complicated and painful, but legally changing your name can be done. It’s most definitely worth it, though, if sharing the surname of your partner is special to you.

Just be sure to have a good copy machine and a checkbook.

—  John Wright

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

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 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

More companies covering transgender surgery

List expected to grow as HRC adds benefit to Corporate Equality Index

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — When Gina Duncan decided to undergo the medical treatment that would make her a woman, she had plenty to fear. The reactions of her children, her professional colleagues and friends. How her body would respond to hours on the operating table. If, at the end of it, she would look female enough so strangers wouldn’t gawk.

What the Orlando mortgage banker didn’t have to be anxious about was how she would pay for two of her surgeries. Her employer of 10 years, Wells Fargo, included breast augmentation and genital reconstruction as coverable expenses under its employee health plan. Duncan was told the San Francisco-based bank already had had 16 other employees transition to new genders and assigned a benefits specialist to walk her through the process.

“They had a template in place, and it was surprisingly supporting and mentally encouraging,” said Duncan, 55, who four years later still works for Wells Fargo. “So much of what I’d heard involved people who ended up losing their job, losing their family, losing their friends, becoming destitute.”

With little fanfare, more and more large corporations, including Coca-Cola, Campbell Soup and Walt Disney, have expanded their insurance coverage to meet the needs of transgender workers. The trend follows a concerted push by transgender rights advocates to get employers and insurers to see sex reassignment the way the American Medical Association does — as a medically indicated rather than an optional procedure.

“We understand people simply get appendicitis, and it is something our community deals with through insurance,” said Andre Wilson, who counsels companies on transgender issues as a senior consultant with San Francisco-based Jamison Green & Associates. “That’s what we need to understand about transsexualism. Not everybody will be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, and in fact, few people will be. But the people who are diagnosed with it really need treatment.”

Among the corporations providing transgender-inclusive health benefits are some leading Wall Street and Main Street brands.

American Express, Kraft Foods, AT&T, Yahoo!, Eastman Kodak, Sears, Morgan Stanley, Price Waterhouse, General Motors and State Farm are among 85 large businesses and law firms that cover the cost of at least one surgery, according to a 2010 survey by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group.

The number is expected to spike this year, when HRC adds availability of surgery-inclusive medical benefits for transgender employees or transgender dependents to the criteria in its annual corporate diversity report card.

To maintain the coveted 100 percent rating when the next Corporate Equality Index is published in the fall, companies will have to offer at least one insurance plan that covers at least $75,000 worth of surgery and other treatments recommended by a patient’s doctor.

“A lot of people are pretty surprised that alongside the cosmetic and experimental treatments that are excluded from mainstream plans, you can see very broad exclusions related to transgender care,” said Deena Fidas, associate director of HRC’s Workplace Project. “In raising the bar…we are addressing the root cause of the problem.”

Stephanie Battaglino, an assistant vice president at New York Life Insurance, has been working with a senior executive at her company to add transgender health benefits to the employee insurance plan. Battaglino, 52, started her transition five years ago, becoming the first New York Life employee to do so openly. To finance her surgeries, which were on a list of procedures not covered by insurance, she borrowed from her retirement account.

“I’ve often said to friends, ‘My transition at work went really, really smoothly, and if I had to do it again, the only thing I would change would be if I had my surgery covered,”’ she said. “To know it was covered and completely reimbursed would have cast everything in a much different light.”

New York Life has been open to the changes and expects to have the expanded coverage in place soon, Battaglino said. But that doesn’t mean the learning curve has been easy to negotiate.

The company initially was uncomfortable agreeing to $75,000 of allowable coverage, she said. But she said that concern was alleviated when it was explained that only two or three employees would likely need the benefits.

“The big misconception is we are going to go broke and all these transgender people are going to come out of the woodwork asking for gender reassignment surgery,” she said.

Some businesses see covering the cost of transgender surgery as not only an important human resources statement, but good business sense.

“Wells Fargo elected to offer this benefit to be competitive as an employer and also to support our comprehensive corporate commitment to diversity,” company spokesman Mary Eshet said.

Joanne Herman, the author of Transgender Explained For Those Who Are Not, said both corporate America and insurers need to understand that genital surgery is not the be-all and end-all in making a person’s appearance match the way he or she feels inside.

For men becoming women, undergoing facial reconstruction may be even more important because it will affect how they are perceived and treated in public, Herman said. The same is true for female-to-male transsexuals and breast surgery. Yet standard insurance plans typically dismiss both as cosmetic, even though people with untreated Gender Identity Disorder are at high risk of suicide and those who get treatment become better workers.

“If you are transsexual, living as anything other than that is a very bleak experience. It’s amazing how much happier I am, how much more productive, social and involved I am as Joanne,” she said.

—  John Wright