Nex Benedict & the complicity of Oklahoma’s political class in violence against trans & non-binary people

Nex Benedict & the complicit of Oklahoma’s political class in violence against trans & non-binary people
by Pauline Park

Nex Benedict image by Freedom Oklahoma

Nex Benedict died on February 8 after being brutally beaten in a restroom in Owasso High School in Oklahoma on February 7. The death of the 16-year-old non-binary member of the Choctaw nation has provoked grief and outrage throughout the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community across the country.
While the direct cause of Nex Benedict’s death has yet to be definitively determined, there can be no doubt that Nex’s death occurred in a climate of transphobic fear and hatred that has led to the violence that the trans youth enduring in school. There can also be no doubt that Oklahoma’s transphobic politicians have incited such violence. On 27 April 2022, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a ‘bathroom bill’ into law (“Oklahoma governor signs transgender bathroom bill,” Associated Press, 26 May 2022). As the Associated Press reported at the time,
“Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed a bill requiring public school students to use only the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. About a dozen conservative states have passed laws targeting the transgender population over bathroom use, participation in school sports, and gender-affirming treatments or surgery for young people. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled House and Senate last week, and Stitt signed it on Wednesday… Democrats who opposed the bill said it singles out and targets transgender students, putting them at risk of ridicule. The bill was proposed after Stillwater Public Schools declined to change a policy allowing students to use the bathroom that agrees with their gender identity unless forced by law to do otherwise. Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma which supports the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer people, said the bill violates federal law and she is discussing legal action with other organizations, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal…”AP quoted McAfee as saying, “This law is unconstitutional, a violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, and more than anything it is unnecessarily cruel for the sake of cruelty. Over the last day we’ve heard people talk about school safety over and over again. But with a flick of his pen, Governor Stitt said that safety doesn’t extend to already vulnerable transgender and Two Spirit young people.”

AP also noted that Stitt, “a Republican running for reelection, earlier this year signed bills to prevent transgender girls from playing on female sports teams in public schools or universities and to prohibit transgender people from changing their birth certificate.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (AP, 4.29.22)
LGBTQ activists laid the blame for Nex Benedict’s death at the feet of the right-wing Republicans who pushed the transphobic legislation, with Kylan Durant, president of the Oklahoma Pride Alliance, telling the Independent of London, “We were saying, ‘this is going to cost queer and trans kids their lives.’ We tried to warn you and no one took it seriously and now here we are” (Bevan Hurley, “LGBTQ activists blame anti-trans legislation for Nex Benedict’s death: ‘We warned you’,” Independent, London, 23 February 2024).
As Bevan Hurley reported in the Independent, “”Nex collapsed at home one day after they got into a fight with three girls in a bathroom at Owasso High School. Nex told a family member they had been ‘jumped’ after standing up to bullies, and the fight was three on one. They died in a hospital emergency room that night.”
Hurley cites the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in his report saying that Oklahoma has the highest number of bills currently pending that are targeting LGBTQ youth of any state in the country. In a recent report for the Oklahoman, Alexia Aston noted that there are 50 bills currently pending in the state legislature that would ban discussion of race and/or gender in public schools, prohibit sex education in public schools and criminalize transgender care for those under 21 (Alexia Aston, “Oklahoma legislature considering over 50 bills targeting LGBTQ+ issues. What do they say?,” the Oklahoman, 20 February 2024).
For example, the “Oklahoma Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” (Senate Bill 878 and House Bill 1377) “would prohibit health care providers from administering gender-affirming care to minors. It would also prohibit public funds from being used for gender-affirming care for minors” will Senate Bill 252 “would prohibit health care providers from administering gender-affirming care to minors. It would also prohibit public funds from being used for gender-affirming care for minors.”
Kylan Durant, president of the Oklahoma Pride Alliance
Will any of the bigoted right-wing Republican politicians who pushed the legislation that gave those girls the green light for their violent assault in Nex Benedict’s high school be held accountable for it or for Nex Benedict’s subsequent death…?
Funders for LGBTQ Issues have issued this statement on the death of Nex Benedict:
“Funders for LGBTQ Issues is heartbroken by the loss of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary high school sophomore of Choctaw ancestry who died as a result of being brutally beaten at Owasso High School in Oklahoma. Nex was a straight-A student. They liked cats and Minecraft and they deserved to live a life full of joy, abundance and the most mundane aspects of everyday living.
Their death, alongside the deaths of so many trans and gender expansive folks, was preventable and directly tied to the violence of the state. Over the last several years, we’ve seen legislative attacks on trans and gender nonconforming people skyrocket. We’ve seen youth policed for just trying to live authentic lives. These draconian assaults, as hard as they try, cannot hide the simple truth that trans people have always and will always continue to exist.
At Funders for LGBTQ Issues, we are working toward our vision of a world where all queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people are liberated, loved, valued, respected, and thriving. It is hard at times like this to see this new world beyond the horror of the moment— where it is not only legislation but rhetoric that threatens the lives of our queer and trans youth of color.
The moment we are living in is not normal. We are in a state of emergency and have been for years and we continue to call on philanthropy to fund this moment with the urgency it deserves. Living authentically should not be a death sentence; our youth deserve to live.
So we keep fighting for them in honor of the lives of Nex and of other LGBTQ youth who met untimely deaths before them. We hope wherever they are that they are now free.”

Pauline Park is chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) and coordinator of the transgender support group at Queens Pride House as well as a member of the Out-FM collective that broadcasts LGBT-related programming on WBAI-FM; she did her Ph.D. in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and led the campaign for the transgender rights bill enacted into law by the New York City Council in April 2002.

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