May 1, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Nikki Araguz, a transgender woman whose husband Thomas was killed in 2010 while working as a volunteer fire fighter, is suing the city of Wharton, Texas for Thomas’s workmen’s compensation benefits. Nikki and Thomas wed in 2008, and Nikki underwent sexual reassignment surgery two months later.
After Thomas Araguz’s death, his ex-wife Heather Delgado sued him in court to challenge the custody agreement over their two sons. Delgado and her lawyer began investigating Nikki’s past, and discovered that she had been born a man. Since Thomas Araguz died while on duty, his surviving relatives are entitled to almost $1 million in death benefits. In court, Delgado argued that Nikki and Thomas’s marriage should not be recognized, since Texas law considers gender to be something that is assigned at birth. Marriages between individuals of the same sex are illegal in the state.
Last year, a judge voided the Araguzes’ marriage and ruled that Nikki could not receive Thomas’s death benefits. In her suit, Nikki Araguz contends that she was denied benefits because she is transgender. Her attorney, Peggy Campbell, said that the new lawsuit is not about marriage equality: “All of the courts keep saying they don’t allow gay marriage. Our position is that this is not a gay marriage issue. It’s a man being married to a woman.”
This year has seen some significant legal victories for transgendered individuals, from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’s ruling in favor of a transgender woman fired from her job in the Georgia Legislature to the recent EEOC opinion that employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity is illegal under Title VII.