Nikki Araguz Loyd, a transgender artist and activist for causes including marriage equality and HIV awareness, has died at age 44.
Her husband, Houston-based artist William Loyd, reported her death in a Facebook post Thursday. No cause of death was given.
Araguz Loyd, who was born in California but spent much of her life in Texas, first became prominent in the 1990s, appearing on TV talk shows to discuss being transgender and the fact that she contracted HIV when she was raped as a youth. Her profile became higher in the next century.
After the breakup of her first marriage, to Emilio Delgado, she met Thomas Araguz III, a trucker and volunteer firefighter in the small town of Wharton, Texas. They fell in love quickly and married in 2008, and he soon gave up his trucking job to be a full-time firefighter. Nikki started a magazine in Wharton and ran unsuccessfully for mayor. In 2010, she was widowed when Thomas died fighting a blaze at an egg production plant.
When she tried to claim a portion of his death benefits, his family fought her, claiming she wasn’t really his widow — that their marriage wasn’t valid because she had been assigned male at birth and hadn’t had gender-confirmation surgery by the time of their marriage, although she did shortly afterward. And Texas didn’t recognize same-sex marriages at the time. A Texas judge initially declared the marriage invalid, but after several years of court battles, an appeals court in 2015 ordered the first judge to reverse his ruling.
Loyd, an artist, soon became her third husband. They ran a gallery together in Houston for a time, and she became stepmother to his two children. “Every part of me hurts,” he wrote on Facebook Thursday. “I can’t stop crying. Our kids can’t stop crying. The Matriarchal part of our family is just gone and will never be replaced. I’ll love you forever TigerLilly. I’ll never love again, you were and always will be the love of my life. Till we meet again.”
Tributes poured in on social media from Araguz Loyd’s friends and fellow trans activists. “Last night we lost one of the most tenacious fighters for the trans community,” Brynn Tannehill wrote on Facebook. “Rest easy, Nikki Araguz Loyd, we have the watch. Fair winds, and following seas.”
Read a 2011 Out profile of Araguz Loyd here.