LGBTQ Agenda: Investigation continues into death of nonbinary Oklahoma student

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 21, 2024
Share this Post:
High school student Nex Benedict died a day after a confrontation in a school restroom. Photo: Courtesy Benedict family
High school student Nex Benedict died a day after a confrontation in a school restroom. Photo: Courtesy Benedict family

LGBTQ advocates and allies are calling the nation's attention to Oklahoma, where a 16-year-old nonbinary student died a day after a physical confrontation in a school restroom, according to multiple news reports and government agencies.

Nex Benedict, a 10th grader, died February 8 in Owasso, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa of about 40,000 people. Since then, LGBTQ community leaders and advocates have said a culture of transphobia may be to blame.

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, stated February 21 that "the depths of this cruelty is sickening."

"The death of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died after being brutally assaulted in their high school, is a gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred," Robinson stated. "Nex's life demands justice. We are reaching out to the [Department of Justice], we are encouraging the community to speak out. We are determined to fight for Nex and their family.

"Nex — you deserved so much more than your too-short life," Robinson added. "You should have had the chance to make headlines for your life, not your death. LGTBQ+ children, our children, deserve more than fear, bullying, and premature obituaries."

Oklahoma does not have a hate crime law that includes sexual orientation or gender identity. The federal government does under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is named in part after Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student who was brutally beaten and died in 1998.

According to text messages from Benedict that they shared with a family member that were reported by KOKI-TV, they reported being "jumped at school. 3 on 1, had to go to the ER."

"All good, just scraps and bruises," the message continued.

When asked why they jumped them, Benedict replied, "They had been bullying me and my friends and I got tired of it so I poured some water on them and all 3 came after me. School did not report to the police and is probably getting sued."

Benedict also wrote they were treated with "a shot in the butt" for pain and that "if I'm still dizzy and nauseous in the morning I might have a concussion."

In a statement February 20, the Owasso school district stated that "a physical altercation occurred in a restroom at the Owasso High School West Campus" on February 7.

"Students were in the restroom for less than two (2) minutes and the physical altercation was broken up by other students who were present in the restroom at the time, along with a staff member who was supervising outside of the restroom," the statement reads.

"Once the altercation was broken up, all students involved in the altercation walked under their own power to the assistant principal's office and nurse's office. ... While it was determined that ambulance service was not required, out of an abundance of caution, it was recommended to one parent that their student visit a medical facility for further examination."

(The district cited privacy laws as to why it could not name the individuals involved.)

The Independent reported what happened next. The following day, Benedict, who had been suspended, collapsed at her grandmother Sue Benedict's house, she told the British publication. While an ambulance was called, Benedict had died. Sue Benedict was Nex Benedict's guardian.

Owasso Police Chief Dan Yancey stated, "A final cause and manner of death will be determined by the State Medical Examiner's Office."

"Detectives have, are, and will be interviewing school staff and students over the course of the next two weeks and in turn will be submitting our investigation to the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office for prosecution review," Yancey continued.

Owasso police continue to investigate.

"It is not known at this time if the death is related to the incident at the school or not," police posted on the department's Facebook page. "A thorough investigation is being conducted by Owasso Police Detectives who are currently awaiting an autopsy report and toxicology results."

OK bathroom bill passed 2 years ago

Tori Cooper, HRC's director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, blamed the death on homophobia and transphobia in Oklahoma. Additionally, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt two years ago signed a bill that segregates public school bathrooms by the sex on a person's birth certificate.

"All students, including trans and gender-expansive students like Nex, have the right to feel safe and protected while attending school," Cooper stated. That Nex was only 16 years old compounds this tragic injustice and they should have lived to see a fulfilling and authentic life.

"We continue to see a horrifying amount of violence against our community, and our community's youth seem to be bearing the brunt of it all," Cooper added. "Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichick, the woman behind 'Libs of TikTok,' who was recently appointed to Oklahoma's library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks. Their hateful speech is having a direct, negative impact on the lives of trans and gender-expansive folks, including young students like Nex."

According to the Washington Post, Stitt said in a February 20 statement, "Our hearts go out to Nex's family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable."

Raichick, an anti-LGBTQ activist who is behind the Libs of TikTok account, was appointed to the Oklahoma Library Media Advisory Committee by state Superintendent Ryan Walters.

Walters did not return requests for comment.

Libs of TikTok reposts content by left-wing or LGBTQ people, sometimes with missing context or to accuse them of "grooming" without basis. The "grooming" conspiracy theory alleges that campaigns of LGBTQ-inclusive education are a means of homosexual or transgender "recruitment" or of normalizing pedophilia.

Libs of TikTok targeted an Owasso teacher two years ago, KOKI-TV reported at the time. Tyler Wrynn, a language arts teacher, had said, "If your parents don't accept you for who you are, fuck them. I'm your parents now" in a video that went viral. He subsequently resigned.

'Nex deserved to live a full life'

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond (R) stated via X, "As a parent and grandparent, my heart breaks for the tragic death of the Owasso student. Because investigators are still working to determine what precipitated this tragedy and the student's cause of death, it is too early to jump to conclusions. What is clear, however, is that our children are precious and should not have to endure the cruelty of others, especially when they are in school. Bullying must not be tolerated in any form."

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Oklahoma released a joint statement.

"We are gravely heartbroken to learn about the death of Nex Benedict and extend our overwhelming condolences to their family, their friends, and the entire transgender community across Oklahoma," the statement reads. "The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth.

"We challenged Oklahoma's law requiring schools to discriminate against students like Nex because we believe every student should have the safe and affirming environment they need to thrive, and policies that put transgender students in danger make schools less safe places for all students," the organizations stated. "We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex's death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter."

Freedom Oklahoma, the Sooner State's LGBTQ+ statewide political advocacy organization, issued a statement as well.

"While the information we have been able to gather leaves us with a still incomplete picture, we know that Nex Benedict, the student who died, faces being deadnamed and misgendered in death, after a horrific attack that killed Nex, possibly because of Nex's TGNC+ identity," the statement reads in part. "While we continue to piece together the full story, we wanted to reach out to our community grappling with this horrific harm, and the grief we all share as we reflect on the growing anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments our youngest community members are facing more often, fueled by state law and the rhetoric around it, words and actions of our state elected officials, and the growing platforms those in power are giving to people like Chaya Raichik who continues to use her platform in a way that leads others to threaten real harm at Oklahoma kids."

The original reporting on the death misgendered Benedict; the family clarified they were nonbinary and their name was Nex on a GoFundMe page that has raised over $65,000 of a $15,000 goal as of press time.

"Please do not judge us as Nex was judged, please do not bully us for our ignorance on the subject," Sue Benedict, Nex's grandmother, stated. "Nex gave us that respect and we are sorry in our grief that we overlooked them. I lost my child, the headstone will have correct name of their choice. The rest of monies will go to other children dealing with the right to be who they feel they are, in Nex Benedict's name. God bless."

The school district defended its record in its statement.

"We understand that for many, additional questions remain, however these are the facts that we are able to communicate at this juncture. We will continue to cooperate fully with the Owasso Police Department's investigation," it stated. "The loss of a student, a member of the [Owasso High School] Ram Family and the Owasso community, is devastating.

"We recognize the impact that this event has had on the entire school community and it is our priority to foster an environment where everyone feels heard, supported, and safe." the district added. "If there is ever a concern about student safety or well-being, please reach out to a teacher, counselor or principal at your child's school. As we continue to mourn the loss of this student, our hearts go out to their family and they will continue to be in our prayers. We are here to support them and everyone who has been affected by this situation."

Chuck Hoskin Jr., the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, issued a statement confirming that "Nex was a child living within our reservation and deserved love, support and to be kept safe," though Benedict was not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

"The more we learn about Nex's life, the more we come to know a wonderful child whose experience and identity mattered and was worth celebrating," Hoskin stated. "Above all, Nex deserved to live a full life."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!