Wicked Little Town: Transgendered Widow of Firefighter Fights the City of Wharton, Texas for Workers Compensation Benefits

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When the Landmark Theater in Chicago announced that John Cameron Mitchell‘s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” would soon be playing as part of its Midnight Madness, I was not surprised at all. “Hedwig” is this generation’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and my favorite movie musical of all time. as Wikipedia describes it,

Hansel Schmidt (John Cameron Mitchell) is a philosophical East German “slip of a girly boy” who loves rock music, and is stuck in East Berlin until he meets Luther Robinson (Maurice Dean Wint), an American soldier. Luther falls in love with Hansel and the two decide to marry. This plan will allow Hansel to leave communist East Germany for the capitalist West. However, in order to be married, the couple must consist of a man and a woman. Hansel’s mother, Hedwig (Alberta Watson), gives her child her name and passport and finds a doctor to perform a sex change. The operation is botched, however, leaving Hansel – now Hedwig – with a dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs, the eponymous “Angry Inch”.

Hedwig eventually moves with Robinson to Junction City, Kansas, but Robinson leaves Hedwig for a man. Hedwig then forms a band with Korean-Born Army wives and pens her first song, “Wicked Little Town.”

According to Hedwig, “This is the first song I’ve ever written. And it’s written for a guy to sing.” The song is all about two individuals overcoming the forces of nature and a town that’s “pious, hateful, and devout” to come together and find love. The most famous lyric from the song, “if you’ve got no other choice, you know you can follow my voice,” also served as the inspiration for the 2006 documentary, “Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig,” a neat little documentary about the creation of Hedwig tribute album, with proceeds to benefit the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

The song also has a title befitting the wicked little town of Wharton, Texas. As reported by ABC News, in 1996, Nikki Araguz legally changed her name to Justin Graham Purdue in 1996, married volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz in 2008, and had sexual reassignment surgery later that year. In 2010, Araguz was killed while fighting a fire. Then,

After losing her appeal to workers’ compensation benefits last month in the state’s administrative process, Araguz filed a suit last week against Wharton, about 60 miles outside Houston with a population of over 9,000 people.

A judge voided Araguz’s marriage last year and denied her death benefits because the state of Texas does not recognize same-sex marriages. She filed an appeal last month.

“As difficult as this has been for me in my grief, I cannot in good conscience allow someone else to go through this again,” Araguz said….

Her attorney, Peggy Campbell of Peggy M Campbell Esq. PC in Houston, said Araguz’ recent suit against the city for workers’ benefits is not about gay marriage.

“All of the courts keep saying they don’t allow gay marriage,” Campbell said. “Our position is that this is not a gay marriage issue. It’s a man being married to a woman.”

So, will the wicked little town of Wharton, Texas win, or will Araguz be triumphant in her appeal? Only time will tell.

-Colin Miller

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