COMMENTARY | Nikki Araguz, a 36-year-old public speaker, lost her husband Thomas in 2010. A veteran firefighter, he died in flames, as many heroes have. Anyone with half a heart would understand the devastation experienced by Araguz. Unfortunately, she has been denied the workers' compensation benefits promised by her husband's city of employment, Wharton, Texas. The reason? Texas doesn't recognize gay marriage.
Nikki Araguz is transgender. She was born male-bodied as Justin Graham Purdue but has been legally recognized under her female name for 16 years. Regardless of how she was born, she looks, acts and most importantly feels like a woman. Shortly after marrying Thomas, Nikki underwent sex reassignment surgery, considered by many to be the final step involved in full recognition of womanhood. As the city of Wharton sees it, she has no rights as a widow for no reason other than the fact she was born with a pair of testicles.
Peggy Campbell, Araguz's attorney, understandably argues this is not an issue of gay marriage. Campbell states, "Our position is that this is not a gay marriage issue. It's a man being married to a woman." While I agree with Campbell the marriage between Nikki and Thomas was by no means a gay marriage, I would argue our society's rampant phobia of GLBT equality is the primary problem. Sure, Peggy and Thomas were a heterosexual, married couple -- but if they were gay and if Peggy was a man, would that make the bereaved spouse any less entitled to benefits?
I would argue the state of Araguz's genitals should have no bearing whatsoever on her fundamental rights as a human being or upon her dignity as a widow. Whether a person is gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, transgender or cisgender, that person deserves equal treatment under the law. That equal treatment should and must include compensation for deceased spouses. Araguz has my full support in seeking compensation following her husband's heroic death.