The Tragic Death of Nex Benedict and the Battle for LGBTQ+ Rights in Oklahoma

Ted Eytan, Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

The death of Oklahoma student Nex Benedict has left many across the country reeling with grief, fear, and anger. Nex, a 16 year old non-binary teen, died the day after they were beaten by a group of students at Owasso High School after enduring a year of bullying due to their identity. 

Over the past few days, the incident has amplified discourse around LGBTQ+ rights in heavily Republican states, such as Oklahoma, that have laws that directly hinder the freedom LGBTQ+ youth in schools. Nex was unable to go to school, a place that should be safe for all students, without being bullied and harassed. The attack took place in a bathroom and resulted in Nex receiving a head injury that led them to the emergency room. They passed away the next day. 

The dismissal of respect for a human’s identity did not begin in the high school bathroom, but rather the hallowed halls of state government. An Oklahoma Republican senator called LGBTQ+ people “filth” when questioned about Nex’s death. Around 40 anti LGBTQ+ bills have been filed in the last year by Oklahoma lawmakers, including measures that end the right to self expression, healthcare access and inclusion in school. What happened to Nex proves that these bills have not only structural implications, but also extremely dangerous social ones. The systems in place in Oklahoma provide a breeding ground for hatred to fester in schools. 

Oklahoma law already bars transgender students from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. It is extremely difficult for trans youth to receive gender affirming care in the state, with a law making it a felony for doctors to provide medical treatments such as puberty-blocking drugs or hormones for those younger than 18, currently under review in court.

Support eh ERA banner