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Students walk out to protest school’s horrific bullying environment after Nex Benedict’s death

Nex Benedict is a white, non-binary, 16-year-old who died after a bathroom fight in Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma
Nex Benedict Photo: GoFundMe

Students at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma, walked out of class Monday to protest the school’s response to anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, which they say led to the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict earlier this month.

“There’s been bullying issues. This time, the bullying has gone so far that a student passed,” Kane, a former Owasso High School student who now takes classes online, told NBC News.

Benedict’s death has sent shockwaves through the queer and trans community in recent weeks. On February 8, a day after a violent altercation with three other students in a bathroom at Owasso High School West, Benedict was rushed to the hospital, where he died. (While previous reporting suggested that Benedict identified as nonbinary, friends at Monday’s protest said he was trans and primarily used he/him pronouns at school.)

Last Friday evening, the Owasso Police Department (OPD) released body cam footage of an interview with Nex and his mother conducted by a school resource officer at the hospital on February 7. In the interview, Nex describes being bullied by the three girls who “jumped” him because of the way he dressed. He says he threw water on the three girls, who were making fun of the way he and a friend were laughing in the bathroom. The girls “came at me,” Nex explains, grabbing his hair, knocking him to the ground, and beating him until he “blacked out.”

Previously, Nex’s mother, Sue Benedict, said that Nex had hit his head on the bathroom floor. She has also indicated that Nex had been bullied because of his gender identity.

An official cause of death has yet to be determined, pending a toxicology report. Last week, OPD said that preliminary information from an autopsy indicated that Nex “did not die as a result of trauma.” OPD spokesperson Lieutenant Nick Boatman, however, told investigative news site Popular Information last week that the medical examiner never specifically said that Nex “did not die from something as a result of that fight.” And in audio from her February 8 911 call, Sue Benedict can be heard telling a dispatcher that Nex’s hands were “posturing,” that his breathing was shallow, and his eyes were “kind of rolling back.”

Boatman told Popular Information that it will take weeks until the medical examiner can determine an official cause of death, pending a toxicology report from the state’s Bureau of Investigation.

On Monday, Kane, who is nonbinary and organized the walk-out, told NBC News that the OPD’s initial statement has led to rampant speculation among students that Nex died from an overdose.

“To me, it doesn’t matter if Nex passed from a traumatic brain injury or if they passed from suicide,” Kane said. “What matters is the fact that they died after getting bullied, and that is the story for so many other students. I’ve been close to ending it myself because of bullying. It’s not new for so many students.”

Others among the students who walked out of Owasso High School Monday—at least 40 in total—blasted the school’s response to bullying. As NBC News notes, the Owasso Public Schools’ student conduct code prohibits bullying, and the district’s website encourages students to report instances via an online form or the Stop Bullying Now hotline.

But students said they were unaware of the district’s bullying policies and expressed skepticism at the school’s willingness to address reports.

“Even if something did happen, there’s no point in going to any kind of administration or teachers about it because absolutely nothing will be done,” Ally, an Owasso senior and friend of Nex’s said. “And I’ve seen it time and time again with my friends.”

Remy, a 26-year-old Owasso alum who uses they/them and he/him pronouns, told HuffPost that their time at the school was the worst four years of their life and described “living in fear.”

“I felt like I couldn’t even tap into what I was feeling because I was so scared about what could happen to me,” they said.

Kane, who said they opted to finish their senior year virtually due to bullying, described students using racial and anti-LGBTQ+ slurs with impunity.

Last week, a video of a transgender alum describing the bullying they experienced as a student at Owasso High School went viral. “The school administration has never cared about the safety of its students,” the 2023 graduate said. They described being called slurs “almost daily,” including by a teacher who they say assaulted them in a bathroom, saying that he was “curing” them.

“The administration told me to keep quiet as to not ruin his life,” they said. “The administration has never cared about its LGBTQ+ students. The murder of Nex is a direct product of their design.”

They went on to describe a 16-year-old Owasso student who died by suicide in 2021. “Me and many other students begged teachers, counselors, and principals to get him help,” they said. “These pleas fell on deaf ears. I went to adults every time he told me he was hurting himself, when he told me he was suicidal…They never got him help.”

In a statement to HuffPost, Brock Crawford, a spokesperson for Owasso Public Schools, defended the district. “As a district, the safety and security of our students is our top priority and we are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for everyone,” Crawford said. “Bullying in any form is unacceptable. We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures to address such behavior.”

Over the weekend, Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction, told the New York Times that Nex Benedict’s death has not changed his strong support for anti-LGBTQ+ school policies. He blamed allegations that those policies encouraged the anti-LGBTQ+ hostility that led to Nex’s death on “left-wing media” coverage.

Walters was already under fire from both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers for appointing Chaya Raichik, the anti-LGBTQ+ influencer behind Libs of TikTok, to Oklahoma’s library advisory committee in January.

Lawmakers, including out Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), and LGBTQ+ advocates have called for a federal investigation into Benedict’s death.

“We believe that Nex’s death is the natural consequence of a growing wave of hatred against LGBTQ+ people. This hatred is being fueled by an unprecedented, coordinated attempt to eliminate the rights and visibility of our communities across the country, which recently led us to declare a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people for the first time in our nearly half-century history,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week, noting that Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced over 85 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation since 2015, passing seven into law.

“Nex’s life demands justice,” Robinson wrote. “The Department has various tools available for addressing anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and violence, including through the bringing of a hate crimes investigation and potentially charges that could help hold the perpetrators of these horrific acts against Nex accountable for their hate-fueled violence.In addition, the Department should work with the Department of Education to support their assessment of violations of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.”

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