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Transgender Texas woman denied workers' comp after husband dies

In July 2010, a Houston, Texas, woman lost her husband of two years in a fire. The husband was a Wharton County volunteer firefighter who died fighting a blaze at an egg plant. Typically, when a worker is killed on the job, the worker's spouse or dependents are provided with workers' compensation benefits to help supplement the income of the decedent and cover expenses related to the death.

However, the woman in this case was born a man, and because of that, her benefits were denied. A Wharton County judge voided the marriage between the transgender woman and her husband last year before denying benefits. The judge's reasoning was that the state of Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage. A contested-case hearing officer also denied the woman widow's benefits in November 2011.

With the help of her attorney, the woman has disputed the denial of benefits in a lawsuit against the City of Wharton, which is a self-insured carrier providing workers' compensation to city employees. She claims that Texas has a backwards view when it comes to the rights of transgender people.

"If you were born a man, you are always a man ... that's the law in Texas right now," the woman's attorney said.

The woman, who underwent sexual reassignment surgery the same year she was married to the volunteer firefighter, will next appeal her case to the district court. The woman's attorney said that they are prepared to take the case "all the way." She said that they are "fighting for all transgender people in this state."

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Transgender Widow Seeks Benefits," David Lee, April 27, 2012; ABC News, "Texas Transgender Widow Sues for Husband's Benefits," Susanna Kim, April 30, 2012

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