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

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:

—  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

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