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LGBTQ Oklahomans mourn Nex Benedict in state that leads the nation in anti-LGBTQ bills

By 37ci3 Feb23,2024

Oklahoma’s queer community is in pursuit Death of LGBTQ teenager who allegedly faced bullying at school for months.

Nex Benedict, 16, died Feb. 8, a day after the Owasso High School sophomore was attacked in a school bathroom, Nex’s family said. There are still many unknowns and the police investigation is ongoing.

But the revelations about Nex’s identity, the alleged bullying they faced at school and the impact of recent state laws targeting LGBTQ students have left Oklahoma’s queer and trans communities both angry and grieving.

Sue Benedict, Nex’s mother, said about it independent Since Nexin implemented a new law in the fall that bans transgender students from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity, transgender students have been bullied because of their gender identity, she said.

While it’s unclear exactly how Nex defines itself, Benedict told The Independent that Nex “do not see themselves as male or female. Nex found themselves in the middle.” The family continues to use their own pronouns for Nex in statements and on the fundraising page.

It’s also unclear if the fight in the bathroom was related to the abuse Nex told his family. However, some LGBTQ Oklahomans and community members nationwide believe Nex’s demise cannot be separated from an increase in legislation and rhetoric targeting the community in the state.

“While various investigations are still ongoing, the facts known to the family, some of which have been made public, are disturbing at best,” the Benedict family said in a statement released Wednesday by their attorney, Jacob Biby.

The Owasso Police Department said in a statement Wednesday that preliminary information from an autopsy report indicates Nex’s death was not the result of trauma. A toxicology test is still ongoing and an official autopsy will be released at a later date.

Asher Aven, “We as an organization and community are deeply saddened by this loss.” co-director of advocacy for the Transgender Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma, told NBC News. “We need justice for Nex.”

“A climate enabling anti-transness”

Last year, state Republicans introduced 35 bills targeting more than 500 states targeting LGBTQ people. American Civil Liberties Union. Three of these became law: a bathroom law, a ban on transitioning care for minors, and a law prohibiting religious institutions from discriminating against when they adopt anti-LGBTQ policies. Fewer than a dozen such bills have been introduced in recent years, according to the ACLU.

So far this year, state lawmakers have introduced 54 bills targeting LGBTQ people, the highest number in the nation, according to the ACLU.

The state’s school systems have also become increasingly hostile toward LGBTQ students. Head of State Ryan Walters revealed last month that the voice behind the far-right Lib Dems’ TikTok social media account was Chaya Rayczyk. was appointed as a consultant to the state library committee.

“Chaya Raichik and I have built a strong working relationship to rid schools of liberal, woke values,” Walters said in a statement after Raichik was elected to the library committee.

Raichik’s account is known for criticizing LGBTQ teachers for promoting inclusivity in their classrooms, at hospitals that provide care for minors transitioning, and at schools that have adopted LGBTQ inclusive policies. Moment An NBC News investigation found 33 cases When people or entities who are the subject of posts by TikTok Libs subsequently report bomb threats or other violent threats.

Raichik denied any involvement in Nex’s death and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In December, a transgender teenager identified in legal documents as J. Doe, sued the Oklahoma State Board of Education After Walters imposed an emergency rule to prevent trans students from changing the gender listed on their school records. Outside of school, Doe was able to change his driver’s license to list him as male.

In June, the state education department a video where Walters calls trans-inclusive school policies “an assault on the truth” and blasts what she calls “radical gender theory” that endangers girls.

Hali, a transgender senior at a high school about half an hour from Owasso, said Oklahoma’s bathroom law and other education policies make her feel unsafe at school. Hali asked to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.

“Being a trans person in Oklahoma and going to school in Oklahoma and going into the bathroom and stuff is a challenge because it’s really scary,” Hali said.

“The rhetoric used by people like Ryan Walters and his appointees has created a climate that allows for direct anti-transness,” Hali said. “The situation has worsened in the last two years. Before that, of course, it still existed, but you can see people who used to be more accepting now start persecuting trans people because that’s what they heard. This is what they see around them. That’s why they bring it to schools themselves.”

“The safety and security of our students is my top priority, just as it is the top priority of Oklahoma schools,” Walters said in a statement shared by Dan Isett, director of communications for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I am saddened by the loss of our Owasso student and pray for God’s mercy on his family and the entire Owasso community,” the statement read. “As part of Oklahoma’s comprehensive School-Based Mental Health Implementation, I have committed all available resources from OSDE to assist Owasso Public Schools during this tragedy and await the full results of the ongoing law enforcement investigation of the incident.”

Isett did not respond to criticism of Walters’ past statements and policies.

Collective mourning

Hali met Nex last year at an LGBTQ youth meeting for Tulsa Youth Services. She said she did not know them well, but remembered them as kind, loving and quiet people.

“It was just a shock,” Hali said of learning of Nex’s death. “I’ve been mourning them for the past few days.” Hali, who is a Cherokee Nation citizen, said it was especially heartbreaking to hear of another Native student’s death given the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Native people, especially women. Some early reports of Nex’s death said they were Cherokee, but Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton told Wednesday Nex’s mother is a member of the Choctaw Nation.

Osage Nation citizen and activist and artist Alex DeRoin said remembering the Nex and mourning them in the context of their Native heritage is critical because bills targeting LGBTQ people in Oklahoma are making the state increasingly dangerous for two-spirit people. . The term is used by some indigenous people to mean having both a male and a female spirit, and can be used as an umbrella term to describe someone’s gender identity and sexuality.

“Generally, it scared me,” said DeRoin, who uses the pronouns he and they and identifies as me-xo-ge, an Osage term for two spirits. “As a Two-Spirit person in Oklahoma, where these bills have escalated and become more hostile toward someone like me, it’s becoming more and more clear that the state is now less and less safe for someone like me. This means that the state is becoming a genocide of indigenous culture, as people like me and Nex are now being targeted to appropriate the memory of our ancestors.

The nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the ACLU, also released statements about Nex’s death, and thousands of people posted tributes on social media.

Lance Preston, founder and executive director of the Rainbow Youth Project, an LGBTQ mental health and suicide prevention organization, said Nex’s death had a powerful impact on Oklahoma’s queer and trans community, especially young people.

The organization operates a hotline and chat for LGBTQ people in crisis and averages 87 inbound calls per week from people who say they are from Oklahoma. Immediately after the national report of Nex’s death on February 16th and through February 20th, the group received 349 connections, more than three times the weekly average.

“And not only are the Oklahoma calls going up, but now we have people who see this incident and say, ‘Okay, I’m being bullied at school, is this going to lead to this?’ ‘ So there’s a fear there,” Preston said. He added that the agency has been receiving more calls from concerned parents in the past few days. They ask how they can support their child and how they can implement anti-bullying policies in their area.

He said the increase in calls was not necessarily related to Nex’s death. Every time an elected official makes a negative comment about LGBTQ people, she said, the challenges in the field and sometimes across the country increase. When the group first launched the hotline two years ago, the main reasons for crisis calls were family rejection or fear of coming out, she said.

“Over the last six to eight months, it’s changed and now it’s political rhetoric,” Preston said. “My government hates me. My school doesn’t want me to exist. My school also has bathroom rules and I’m scared.’ And we’re seeing a lot of that right now. And this event really reinforced that a bit.”

Of 349 crisis contacts between youth and adults between February 16 and February 20, the Rainbow Youth Project found that 69% cited the Owasso incident as one of the reasons for their concern, 85% reported being bullied at school and/or social on media platforms and 79% reported fear of physical attack. 32 contacts were identified as students at Owasso High School and 14 were identified as parents of students attending Owasso High School.

Aven of the Oklahoma Transgender Advocacy Coalition said the group will hold vigils across the state over the next three days.

Preston said the Rainbow Youth Project has staff meeting with local advocates and mental health professionals to develop a rapid response team to support people in Oklahoma City affected by Nex’s death. Suicide of a teenager in Mustang, Oklahomaearlier this month.

“These kids are scared, so we have to add the positive encouragement part of it so they don’t feel alone,” Preston said. “Many of them say they don’t even want to go back to school, so the fear is real and we have to do everything we can to calm them down.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for more resources.

If you are an LGBTQ youth in crisis, suicidal, or in need of a safe and non-judgmental place to talk, call TrevorLifeline now at 1-866-488-7386 or Rainbow Youth Project at 1-317-643- 4888.

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By 37ci3

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