A Word On Parenting

Death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict and a Call for Action: A climate of anti-Transness leads to a tragedy

By Brittany Berger

TW: This article contains information about violence against a gender-non-conforming minor

Over the last month you may have heard about the death of a Non-Binary teen in Oklahoma, Nex Benedict (they/them, he/him), who died one day after being bullied and beaten by fellow classmates in a “girls’” bathroom. An official cause of death and final autopsy report have not yet been released at the time of writing this, but regardless of the official cause, “Nex’s death is a result of being a target of physical and emotional harm because of who Nex was,” reports Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBTQ advocacy group in the state. 

On February 7th, Nex’s mother, Sue Benedict was called to the High School after her child was involved in an altercation. It is reported that Nex, in response to his friend and him being harassed by a group of three girls, poured water on the girls. Then Nex and his friend entered the girls’ bathroom where the bullies “jumped” them. In the body-cam footage of the police interview with Nex, he reports that they were being bullied because of “how they were dressed” and that this particular group of girls started harassing them a week earlier.

When Sue Benedict came to the school to attend to her child, she found out that Nex was badly beaten and had bruises on his face and over his eyes and scratches on the back of his head. 

Nex told the police officer that he hit his head on the ground after the attackers grabbed his legs to take him down. Sue was surprised and upset that the school never called the police or paramedics, and she took her child to receive a medical evaluation herself, and that is where they spoke to the police. 

The officer interviewing Nex asked him if he ever reported the bullying to the school. Nex said he “didn’t see the point”. A disturbing statement that shows that the school did not provide a safe place for Nex and his community.  

That night Nex went to bed sore with a headache. Nex had also been suspended from school for two weeks and the school and police deemed the fight as “mutual”. Nex fell asleep listening to music, something that Nex often did to decompress after hard days.

The next afternoon on February 8th, Sue says that they were about to leave for an appointment, when Nex collapsed in their living room and was posturing – a sign of a brain injury. Sue called 911 and when paramedics arrived, Nex wasn’t breathing and was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Less than two weeks later, police reported that a preliminary autopsy and investigation showed that Nex’s death was not a result of trauma. In response, the Benedict family lawyers released a statement saying that they would conduct an independent investigation into Nex’s death and that some facts that have not been released yet “are troubling, at best.”

Nex was an incredible human who was loved and supported by their family and friends yet faced inconceivable violence and harassment from peers. This bullying at school is undeniably a result of systemic failure to create a safe inclusive space for all children in schools.

Through many reports it has been deemed that Nex and his other gender non-conforming friends began experiencing bullying and contention at their middle and high school in Owasso, in 2022 and 2023. 

In April of 2022, a teacher at school, Tyler Wrynn, who was an ally to Nex and other Transgender students, was recorded and featured on an anti-liberal and anti-LGBTQ TikTok account, ‘Libs of TikTok’, stating, “If your parents don’t accept you for who you are, f*** them.” This led to Mr. Wrynn’s resignation. 

According to NBC News, at a vigil for Nex, Mr. Wrynn said “that his favorite memories of Nex happened every day when he went out for bus duty after school. Nex would yell across the campus “I’m gonna fight you” and challenge Wrynn over “cartoonishly absurd things,” Wrynn said. One day it was winner-gets-Wrynn’s-Ford Mustang. The next it would be if Nex wins, he gets to transfer into Wrynn’s class.”

In 2023, the person who is the voice behind the far-right ‘Libs of TikTok’ social media account, Chaya Raichik, was appointed by the Oklahoma state superintendent, Ryan Walters, to be the advisor to the state library committee. Walters announced, “Chaya Raichik and I have developed a strong working relationship to rid schools of liberal, woke values.”

Oklahoma has been the leader in introducing bills that add to a climate of anti-Transness in the state, with 35 being introduced in 2023 – that is nearly triple the amount of anti-Trans bills on any given year prior. Three of those have become law this year: The bathroom law, a prohibition on transition-related care for minors, and a law that bars discrimination against religious entities should they instate anti-LGBTQ policies. 

These facts are examples of the systemic anti-Trans rhetoric and policy that is being fostered and accepted in Oklahoma and how easily a school environment can become an unsafe place for Queer kids. As a parent of Queer children this makes me very emotional and unsettled. While California has worked hard to offer protections for our youth, there continues to be similar anti-Trans bills being introduced in this state as well.

It feels necessary to say that we must not let Nex’s death be in vain. His story begins to unfold layers and layers of systemic issues affecting our youth. On one hand it makes me feel powerless as I realize how deep this goes, but the anger, frustration, and disturbing emotions from this string of events makes me want to scream and fight for dismantling the systems that fostered this tragedy. 

Nex had everything going for him from the outside looking in: A supportive family who was learning how to hold and care for a Trans teen, friends that are like him, straight A’s, talent, and empathy. But the truth is the system would not accept him and created barriers and pathways to discrimination.

Nex was accepted and loved in their family. The family spoke to The Independent and said that they encouraged discussion about questions of gender identity in their household, a value gained through their roots to the Choctaw Nation. The Choctaw Nation recognizes Non-Binary people as “Two-Spirit”. 

Nex’s parents admit that just like other parents, they didn’t always understand it, but Sue Benedict said to The Independent, “I was very open with my children to be who and what they thought was best. They could talk to me about anything, as long as that respect goes both ways. A child needs to figure out who they are and what they want to be, and you cannot force it upon them.” “So many people push kids to be one thing, and you’ve got to let them find themselves and be who they should be,” Sue Benedict said.

Nex was a straight A student who was a talented artist. He raised a kitten named Zeus. He liked video games such as Minecraft and Ark and he loved to read. Friends remembered Nex at the vigil, describing him as a friend who would brighten up a room and who brought energy and enthusiasm. One friend said he supported him as he came out as Gay, and another said he would keep the room in a good mood, and he made everything seem easy. Nex was described as fiery and ready to defend his friends.

Now friends express how school is not the same without Nex. Classes are quieter and many have stated that they are still in denial and keep waiting to see him walk around the corner at school. Another parent of a high school senior at Nex’s school organized the vigil that took place because she recognized that students needed a safe place to express their grief after some stated they felt like they couldn’t talk about it at school. 

Following Nex’s death, the Rainbow Youth Project reported a 500% increase in the number of calls it receives. The Rainbow Youth Project is a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ youth and operates a call crisis center. According to TIME Magazine, about 70% of their calls mentioned Nex’s death as a reason for their distress. 85% of callers reported that they were facing bullying at school and/or on social media. At least 32 callers conveyed that they attended Nex’s school, and another 14 callers were parents of students at his school. 

According to the Rainbow Youth Project, every 45 seconds a Queer youth person attempts to take their own life and in Oklahoma 1 out of 2 LGBTQ+ youth seriously considers suicide. These are chilling statistics. 

Currently the U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into Owasso Public Schools due to the alleged failed response to sex-based harassment. This came after the Human Rights Campaign drafted a formal complaint against Owasso High School in an effort to prevent future situations like this from happening again. 

My heart goes out to the Benedict family and all those who were touched by Nex in his lifetime. 

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental-health crisis or contemplating suicide, call or text 988. To contact the Rainbow Youth Project, dial (317) 643 4888. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.