Not Even a Child’s Death Can Stop These Lawmakers From Spewing Hate

Photo of Nex Benedict, shared by his family.Family Gofundme

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Trans teen Nex Benedict died after an altercation in the girl’s bathroom of his public high school in Owasso, Oklahoma a bathroom he was required to use because of the state’s 2023 legislation forcing students at public and charter schools to use bathroom and changing facilities that match their biological, sex rather than their identity.
The exact cause of Benedict’s death—which occurred less than 24 hours after he was “jumped” by three other students who, in Benedict’s words, were “beating the shit out of me”—remains under investigation. The latest update from police confirmed that the fight has not been ruled out as Benedict’s cause of death. 
Benedict’s grandmother and guardian told the Independent that Benedict had been bullied over the past year for being transgender. Since Benedict’s death, calls to LGBTQ crisis centers from Oklahoma youth have increased by 300 percent. Eighty-five percent of those callers said they had faced bullying and 79 percent feared for their physical safety.
Benedict’s death also highlights the unique struggles that trans youth face under anti-trans policies and laws. In 2023, in addition to the bathroom ban, the Oklahoma legislature stopped trans kids from playing on sports teams that align with their gender and banned gender-affirming care for minors. The Oklahoma education department appointed far-right TikToker Chaya Raichik—of “Libs of TikTok”—to sit on the statewide library advisory board. Raichick promotes the “eradication of transgenderism.”
Many of these same politicians have used Benedict’s death as an opportunity to double down on their anti-trans rhetoric. During a public forum last week, state Sen. Tom Woods (R) said, “I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma. We are going to fight to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma, because we’re a Christian state.” When pressed on if he was referring to the LGBTQ community when he said “filth” he said “no comment.”
Later, after the comment reached the national news, Woods said “a child losing their life is horrible,” but stood by his statement, adding: “This is an agenda that is being forced on Oklahoma kids. My voting record speaks for itself. I supported legislation to keep men out of women’s sports and to protect children from being mutilated by transition surgery before they can make an informed decision.”
Then there is Ryan Walters. Walters, the state superintendent, has spent the last few years working to ban anything related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in Oklahoma schools—when he is not running his Koch-brothers backed nonprofit or being accused of misusing state funds. In his short statement on Benedict’s death, Walters said: “We have witnessed the radical left and their accomplices in the media use the tragic death of a student to push a political agenda and a false narrative. It is despicable and harms our students and communities. I will continue to fight for parents and will never back down to the woke mob.”
Since then, Media Matters revealed that Walters has fundraised with conservative talk show host Ron Causby, who Walters described himself as being in a “bromance” with, and who, at a school board meeting in January 2022, encouraged his daughters to “kick the shit” out of transgender students.
Raichick, meanwhile, misgendered Benedict in posts, as she tried to defend herself against the upwelling of coverage linking her to the school district.
While the legislators and government officials surrounding Benedict have failed to rise to the occasion following their death, his friends, family, and the larger LGBTQ community has come together to share in grief and celebrate Benedict’s life. Rep. Mauree Turner (D), Oklahoma’s only nonbinary representative, held a moment of silence for Benedict on the state House floor, which was not respected by all of their colleagues. Turner wrote in a statement, “Every day I get more angry that we, politicians, no matter your party affiliation are aiding in a transgenocide… Nex’ death is a direct result of a failed administration in a public school that didn’t value the life of a trans student.” (Experts confirm that there is a correlation between anti-LGBTQ policies and violence.)
Nonbinary actor Sara Ramirez said at a vigil: “Nex, Benedict, I wanna say I’m sorry for the ways your peers and your school discarded and threw you away. Your life was valuable.”
Benedict’s partner shared, “He made everything easier. He kept energy levels high. He would always keep the room in a good mood. He was always one of the brightest kids in the room, whether he would smile or not.”
“Nex had a light in them that was so big, they had so many dreams.” Sue Benedict, Nex’s grandmother, told the Independent, “I want their light to keep shining for everyone. That light was so big and bright and beautiful, and I want everyone to remember Nex that way.”