Transgender widow still fighting for late husband’s death benefits

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by Shern-min Chow / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 8:10 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 14 at 8:20 PM

An “activist court” relying in “junk science”: That’s how attorneys against transgender widow Nikki Araguz characterized Friday’s appeals court ruling. This case over who gets Firefighter Thomas Araguz’ death benefits now return to Wharton County for a trial to determine what sex Nikki is legally.

The lawyers represent Thomas Araguz’ first wife, Heather Delgado. Delgado is the mother of their two sons and believes his children should inherit the death benefits.

Nikki has a new husband now, but it’s her first, Thomas Araguz and his death benefits that are the focus of an ongoing landmark legal battle. Celebrating the court ruling with supporters Thursday night, Nikki said, “It’s never been about the money for me.”

At a press conference Friday, attorney Ted Burwell shot back.

“Whenever someone says it’s not about the money, you know what it’s about,” said Burwell.

In addition to the well known $635,000 in death benefits, there is also a lawsuit alleging a faulty light was responsible for the 2010 blaze which killed Thomas Araguz. That case is potentially worth millions.

So the appeals court ruling is key: for the money and issues of same-sex and transgender relationships. The court acknowledged Nikki was born a man and was a man at the time of her marriage. 

“Well she had male body parts, but viewed herself as a woman and that’s sufficient to create a question about her sex, so now the trial in Wharton county will be what sex is Nicki, question mark,” said Burwell.

Nikki, who now runs an art gallery in Houston addressed the media and supporters.

“I fully expect the other side to fight back as hate mongers often do,“ said Nikki.

Burwell said no one had demonstrated against Nikki or wished or ill and retorted.

“To construe that anyone is hate mongering is Nikki is just grandstanding,” said Burwell.

The war of words didn’t end there.

“If I had stayed quiet the only narrative anyone would've heard is I was a tramp tranny who tricked my husband," said Nikki.

“She drugged somebody and stole a watch," Burwell said. "She was convicted of that. She failed to appear to court on time and was convicted of that. She tried to bring a camera crew into court and was scolded by the judge for that.”

The trial in Wharton is likely this summer. The case will probably end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. That could mean another seven years of legal fighting, likely to be tough on Thomas’ Araguz 2 sons who are now preteens.

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