Transmissions: A death in Oklahoma

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday March 6, 2024
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Nex Benedict. Illustration: Christine Smith
Nex Benedict. Illustration: Christine Smith

On February 7, a 16-year-old student at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma entered the girls' bathroom. Twenty-four hours later, that student would be dead.

The student, Nex Benedict, has been identified in many reports as being nonbinary, and NBC News has reported — from speaking to friends of Benedict's — that he preferred he/him pronouns. Oklahoma law requested students to use the restroom consistent with his sex at birth, so he was in the girl's restroom.

While in the restroom, a trio of girls laughed at Benedict and another friend who was in the restroom. According to an interview later that day, Benedict told a school resource officer that these girls had previously mocked Benedict and a friend due to their choice of clothing. This harassment had, apparently, been happening for a week or so, but Benedict never reported it, saying, "I didn't really see the point in it."

In retaliation, Benedict poured some water on the girls. The girls beat him, with Benedict briefly blacking out after he hit his head on the bathroom floor.

The school did not call for medical attention, but, rather, issued Benedict a suspension. Sue Benedict, the grandmother and guardian of Nex Benedict, was called to pick him up at school and took him to Bailey Medical Center. It was some time after this that the school resource officer conducted an interview at the hospital. When Sue Benedict told the officer that she may wish to press charges, the officer threatened that Nex Benedict might also be charged, causing Sue Benedict to decline.

Benedict was discharged from the medical center but collapsed in his living room the next day. By the time a medical team arrived, Benedict had stopped breathing. Later that evening, at the hospital, he was declared dead.

In the wake of Benedict's death, Owasso Police Department spokesperson Nick Boatman implied that Benedict's death was not due to the head injuries, stating that more information will be provided once the coroner provides toxicology results. Boatman also said that the department had released incomplete information to "head off national scrutiny." The department has since backtracked on this, stating that it has not actually ruled out trauma as the cause of death.

Also, I would be remiss not to add a comment from Oklahoma state Senator Tom Woods (R) who, when asked in the wake of the death why the Legislature has "an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of Oklahoma and what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children," went on the record at a town hall to state that his constituency "doesn't want that filth in Oklahoma."

Oklahoma has already filed 60 anti-trans bills within the last two months, including bills that will place felony penalties on those providing gender-affirming care, a drag ban, and a ban on birth certificate amendments.

I wanted to lay out these facts as carefully as I could. A hostile state that is seeking to take away any right to be trans in Oklahoma. A school would not seek out medical care for an injured student — but would instead suspend him. A resource officer that sought to squelch charges, and another officer who broadly implied — and I'm being generous here — that Benedict's death was not because he'd been slammed into the bathroom floor. All of these elements — and more I don't have room to get into — likely played a part in Benedict's death.

This death has left me incandescent with rage and, to be honest, I have had a hard time trying to manage my own feelings around this case. Every time I think about it, I find myself angry all over again.

Last November, I spoke at a Transgender Day of Remembrance event not far from me. One of the other speakers was a nonbinary student. They were super enthusiastic and very happy with the path of self-discovery they were on — but they had also clearly had to deal with the fallout including, yes, at school. They've very much been on my mind. How many other kids like them are out there, and how many of them are just as threatened as Benedict was?

Of course, I also thought about my own school years. I wasn't out back then, but the school bullies had me pegged. Unlike Benedict, I didn't use any restroom at school. Doing my best to hold things until I could get home, I avoided lunch at school. Nevertheless, near daily at school I used to get beaten and still have chronic pain in my back and shoulder to this day.

My school's response to this, by the way, was to send me to the school psychologist: his task was to teach me not to cry as I was beaten. I would like to think that all these years later things would have not gotten worse than that — but here we are, with a student who was beaten, blacked out, and instead of being offered medical assistance, was suspended from the school.

Forty Owasso High School students walked out in the wake of Benedict's death, saying that bullying is common on campus, but accountability is rare. I suppose no one should be surprised with people like Woods in the Oklahoma Senate, and the constant onslaught of anti-trans bills in the Legislature.

Like so many before, I hope that Benedict's death will not be in vain, and that maybe this will finally spark people to finally say "no more" to this wave of anti-trans animus gripping our country.

I fear, however, that this is but the start.

Gwen Smith wants to see justice for all of our Nex Benedicts, all our Leela Alcorns, a trans teen who died by suicide in 2014, and everyone in the transgender community. You can find her at

If you are having a crisis, San Francisco Suicide Prevention's 24-hour crisis line is (415) 781-0500. Its HIV Nightline is (415) 434-2437 or 1-800-273-2437. For the 24-hour crisis text line, text (415) 200-2920. For more information, click here. People can also call 988, the national suicide and mental health crisis line.

LGBTQ young people can contact The Trevor Project here or call its toll-free crisis line at 1-866-488-7386.

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