FeaturesPride 2020

Remembering Nikki Araguz Loyd

William Loyd looks back on his late wife’s life of activism.

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William Loyd holds a photo of his late wife, Nikki Araguz Loyd (photo by Alex Rosa)

Nikki Araguz Loyd has been selected as Pride Houston’s 2020 Honorary Grand Marshal. The late pioneering transgender activist had worked tirelessly throughout her life to effect change for the LGBTQ community.

Nikki died unexpectedly in November 2019 at age 44. Her widower, William Loyd, will stand in her place when Pride Houston’s 2020 grand marshals are honored at the next Pride parade. “Nikki was a role model and advocated for change,” William says. “She always wanted to change things for future generations.”

Her Early Years

Nikki was born in Carmel, California, in 1975, and was one year old when her family moved to Houston. She grew up in the Spring Branch area, and came out as trans in her freshman year of high school. Her mother was supportive of her transition, and the two appeared on the talk shows of Maury Povich and Phil Donahue, in addition to numerous other public appearances. In 1996, she successfully petitioned Harris County’s 245th Family District Court to change her name and correct the gender marker on her California birth certificate to female.

In 2008, Nikki married Thomas Trevino Araguz III, a Wharton volunteer firefighter who later became a sheriff’s deputy. Two years later, Araguz lost his life while fighting a fire at an egg plant in Boling. At the time of the fire, Nikki was on a business trip and was not made aware of her husband’s passing. She learned of Araguz’s death from a fellow fireman’s wife who had posted the news on social media. Upon her return to Wharton, Araguz’s parents prevented Nikki from seeing her stepchildren.

“Nikki was a role model and advocated for change. She always wanted to change things for future generations.”

—William Loyd

The morning after Araguz’s burial, Nikki learned that two separate lawsuits had been filed by her husband’s mother and ex-wife to take away her benefits as a firefighter’s spouse. Araguz’s family claimed that since Nikki was assigned male at birth, she was not female and therefore her marriage to Araguz was invalid. 

In May 2011, State District Judge Randy Clapp ruled in favor of Araguz’s family by nullifying the marriage and withholding Nikki’s widow benefits during litigation. Hoping to have Judge Clapp’s ruling overturned, Nikki unsuccessfully appealed the ruling in 2011. 

As the court case began to make national headlines, Nikki garnered the support of many trans activists after she was featured in a 20/20 television segment and a lengthy profile in Out magazine.

In 2012, Nikki was in the spotlight again when she spent nearly a month in jail after being accused of stealing a woman’s watch. Originally booked into the men’s section of the jail under her male birth name, Nikki’s protests over that practice prompted then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia to change the jail’s booking policy. Months after her release, new federal standards were implemented that required trans inmates to be addressed by their chosen name.

Finding Love Again

Following her release, Nikki met William Loyd on a dating website, and their first dinner date occurred at Little Pappasito’s on Richmond Avenue. They soon became inseparable and were married on September 18, 2013, in the Corpus Christi courthouse.    

That same day, and in the same courthouse, Nikki’s appeal of her case as “the fireman’s widow” was being heard. “We went from one floor to another, all in the same afternoon,” William recalls.   

In February 2014, the 13th District Court of Appeals ruled that Nikki would get another chance to litigate the case in a State district courtroom. In 2015, a District judge ruled that Nikki was legally married to Araguz at the time of his death in 2010, so she finally became eligible to collect widow’s death benefits from her previous marriage.

Nikki Araguz Loyd and William Loyd

A Champion of Change

William emphasizes that Nikki “lived her life in defiance, and she thrived. She was the type to see a beehive and go whack it.” 

“Nikki’s biggest pride was her home life,” William says, noting that the couple was raising two kids. “Her children were her pride and soul.” Despite living openly as a trans woman, Nikki was elected president of her local PTA in the conservative Humble area. 

“She always felt that if you can make something better for someone, you have a duty to make things better. Every time you use your voice to stand up, you embolden someone else.”

Nikki idolized people who pushed the envelope and formed alliances in order to create change, William says. “Trans activist Monica Roberts is the person she respected the most.”

Nikki was also fascinated by Christine Jorgensen, a former GI who underwent gender-confirmation surgery in 1952. Nikki was a fan of the Netflix series Pose, and was even a friend of Angelica Ross, who played Candy Ferocity in the series. Ross would stay with Nikki whenever she visited Houston.

To create trans visibility, Nikki and William had begun producing a show entitled Nikki’s American Dream, which they were trying to sell to a television network. The couple also founded the nonprofit Transgender National Alliance in 2015. “We were able to change the lives of hundreds of trans people by helping them change their gender markers,” William notes with pride.   

Watch Nikki’s American Dream online at youtube.com/nikkisamericandream.

This article appears in the September 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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