Warning: quoted text and linked articles contain transphobic language.
This story is enraging and heartbreaking all at once. A woman named Nikki Araguz recently lost her husband Thomas, when he died while working as a firefighter on July 3. Instead of being allowed to mourn this horrific and sudden loss of her life partner, Nikki is instead being sued by her late husband’s family.
The lawsuit attempts to void the two year marriage of Nikki and Thomas, for the purpose of preventing her from having access to his death benefits. The family brutally alleges that the entire marriage was a fraud, revealed personal details about Nikki’s life, and have dragged her into court and before television cameras during this grieving period.
A Wharton county judge is expected to hear evidence on Friday in the first step toward sorting out the estate of a firefighter killed in the line of duty, in dispute because of a lawsuit between his parents and his widow who was born a male.
Nikki Araguz on Thursday decried allegations lodged in the lawsuit by her late husband’s family that she is a fraud because she was born male.
“I’m absolutely devastated about the loss of my husband, a fallen firefighter named Thomas Araguz III, and horrified at the horrendous allegations accusing me of fraud because they are absolutely not true,” Araguz said at a Thursday press conference. “And that is all I have to say.”
She spoke briefly at the law office of Phyllis Frye, a transgender attorney, who said her six-lawyer firm is poised to fight the family’s lawsuit. Moments after her statement, Araguz stood up in tears and walked out of the press conference.
“She cries,” Frye said after the abrupt departure. “It’s been 18 days since her husband died.”
In a lawsuit filed July 12 in Wharton County, his mother, Simona Longoria, asked to be appointed administrator of her son’s estate and that her son’s marriage to Nikki Araguz be voided because the couple were members of the same sex.
Voiding the marriage would prevent Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had, with these things only going to her husband’s heirs, said Chad Ellis, Longoria’s attorney.
A Friday court hearing is planned to determine whether to extend a temporary restraining order granted Longoria that prevents Araguz from receiving insurance or death benefits or having access to bank accounts or property the couple had.
Ellis said his client’s efforts to void the marriage are supported by Texas law, specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender.
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, as well as her wrongful death claim, was invalid.
“The law is clear, you are what you are born as,” Ellis said.
Let me say, first of all, that when it comes to the issue of marriage, the courts are wrong. Any person should be able to marry any other person of their choosing, regardless of gender. The end. The fact that one cannot is an act of blatant bigotry and discrimination. And that Simona Longoria is attempting to use this prejudiced law to invalidate her son’s marriage, no matter what the circumstances, is utterly despicable.
But it’s all the more despicable that she is attempting to do so here, where the Araguz’s marriage was clearly not same-sex. While in a better world their genders would not matter with regards to such issues, the fact is that their union was between a man and a woman. The only way to counter this objective fact is to invalidate another person’s identity, and to engage in cis supremacist tropes about what it means to “really” be a man or woman.
For her part, it is worth strongly emphasizing, Nikki strongly states that her husband knew about her history, and was fully supportive of her.
But Mrs Araguz said her husband knew everything and even supported her through reconstructive surgery.
“We had a completely honest marriage, a 100 per cent loving, honest marriage,” Mrs Araguz said.
“I am grieving the loss of my husband and best friend.”
She said the couple lied under oath in April during the custody dispute, swearing that Mr Araguz did not know about her gender.
They lied because they thought it would help the child custody arrangements, she said.
For what it’s worth, I absolutely believe her. It also makes absolute sense to lie about Thomas’ knowledge of Nikki’s trans status during a custody hearing, seeing as how prejudices against trans* folks ensure that they are regularly misconstrued as sexual predators and deviants who have no place around children. Social prejudice regularly forces trans* people to lie, whether it be with regards to custody, employment, immigration, or a myriad of other matters. But it’s also worth noting that in what I deem to be the highly unlikely event that her husband did not know of her trans status, there’s also no evidence that Nikki ever lied. She is a woman, and always presented herself as one.
This lawsuit stands for a lot more than the personal family vendetta that it quite clearly appears to be on the surface. It also seeks to invalidate the genders of countless people, the marriages of countless couples. It seeks to reinforce the role of the state in people’s identities, to deliberately perpetuate oppression and uproot people’s lives. Even if Thomas Araguz’s family had reasonable grounds on which to deny his wife access to his death benefits, the grounds of this lawsuit are cruel, bigoted, unethical, and disgraceful. All of it reeks of transphobia, cissexism, and the urge to use one’s access to social power to crush a marginalized person by any means necessary.
There have also been side effects of this decision to sue Nikki Araguz. She has been widely outed as trans, something that will put her at heightened risk of discrimination, harassment, and more direly, violence. The fact is that trans* people are not safe everywhere — indeed, it’s pretty clear that they’re not safe most places. If Nikki wanted to choose to be public about her trans status, that’s entirely her choice — but the decision of Thomas Araguz’s family to make that choice for her is unconscionable.
As a result of the public outing, the name that Nikki was given at birth has been widely published. As in the quotes above, it is stated everywhere you look that she “used to be a man” or “was born a man,” even though there’s absolutely no evidence that she personally identifies this way. The validity of her gender and her marriage and her humanity have been entered into public debate. And she has been mocked and called countless hateful, transphobic slurs — things I will not link to, but which it would not take you long to find for yourself.
All, it bears repeating, in a time where she is trying to mourn the tragic death of the man she loved.
If you are as outraged and stricken by this case as I am, please know that there is a way you can directly help. The TG Center has launched the TG Center Nikki Araguz Fund to pay for her legal defense. Details below:
This is a rare opportunity for each of us to influence the arc of history by donating to the TG Center Nikki Araguz Fund. Every $1000 donation received puts us one step closer to justice for Nikki. Individual contributions at any level are appreciated, even those as little as five dollars. We also encourage you to use your influence to persuade capable people, organizations, and foundations to contribute at higher levels.
Mrs. Araguz is represented by Phyllis Randolph Frye, a longtime supporter and member of the Transgender Foundation of America (TFA) and a transgender pioneer in her own right. You may drop off or send contributions to the TFA at:
Transgender Foundation of America
Houston, TX 77006
Make checks payable to Transgender Foundation of America. Please make sure to note that the payment is for the TG Center Nikki Araguz Fund.
Credit card contributions can be made using the following link:
Please assist Nikki Araguz’s defense if you can, and be sure to spread this information far and wide.
UPDATE: Ali provides the latest in the comments:
Unfortunately, it looks like the judge is already siding with Mrs. Longoria; he granted her request to freeze NOT JUST insurance payouts but also ALL joint property – including income earned by Mrs. Araguz during the marriage.
Longoria is quoted as saying her goal is to “freeze Nikki out,” and so far she’s gotten her wish. Mrs. Araguz is currently living off of donations, so ANY amount donated at this point is desperately needed.