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Joe Biden urges schools to end “cruel” bullying that led to Nex Benedict’s death

Mar 7, 2024; Washington, DC, USA; US President Joe Biden delivers his third State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 7, 2024. Mandatory Credit: Shawn Thew/Pool via USA TODAY
Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union Address on March 7 Photo: SHAWN THEW/Pool via USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN

“Nex Benedict, a kid who just wanted to be accepted, should still be here with us today,” President Joe Biden said of the transgender, Native American Oklahoma 16-year-old who died on February 8 after an alleged assault by three bullies in his high school bathroom.

In a statement issued Thursday, Biden expressed condolences to Benedict’s loved ones and urged parents and schools to take bullying seriously. “Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did,” Biden wrote. “In memory of Nex, we must all recommit to our work to end discrimination and address the suicide crisis impacting too many nonbinary and transgender children,” he added.

Biden called non-binary and transgender people “some of the bravest Americans I know,” adding, “Nobody should have to be brave to just to be themselves… Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did… To all LGBTQI+ Americans for whom this tragedy feels personal, know this: I will always have your back.”

Benedict’s school didn’t call an ambulance for the injured teen and didn’t inform the police of the assault until he was later admitted to the hospital. In police body camera footage taken at the hospital, Nex — who reportedly identified as trans and primarily used he/him pronouns — said the fight started because the other students involved “had been bullying me and my friends, and I got tired of it. So I poured some water on them, and all three came after me.”

He said the bullies beat him until he blacked out. He told police he had “scrapes and bruises,” and told his mother he had a sore head as he headed to bed on February 7. He died the next day.

This week, a report from the state medical examiner’s office ruled Benedict’s death as a likely suicide from the “combined toxicity” of two medications: the anti-histamine diphenhydramine and the anti-depressant fluoxetine. Benedict’s family has pledged to conduct an independent investigation into the teen’s death.

“LGBTQ+ young people are more than four times more likely to die by suicide than their peers – not because there is any predisposition in their identity, but because of the tremendous stressors, rejection, and antagonism that many of them face in society,” said Peggy Rajski, founder and interim CEO of The Trevor Project, a queer youth anti-suicide organization.

The Biden Administration has directed schools to allow trans and nonbinary students to use names, pronouns, and school facilities that match their gender identity — including bathrooms and sports teams. Some Republican-led states and districts have responded with anti-trans policies that deny bathroom and locker room access, forcibly out trans kids to their potentially unsupportive parents, and ban gender-affirming care for minors.

“Gender-affirming care has been shown to reduce suicide ideation and attempts in transgender individuals, along with social support, familial support, and reduction of discrimination,” The Trevor Project wrote in a recent study.

The Department of Education (DOE) has launched an investigation into the Owasso Public School District of Oklahoma following a request by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Additionally, 350 public figures and LGBTQ+ rights groups signed an open letter telling the Oklahoma legislature to remove the state’s rabidly anti-LGBTQ+ head of education, Ryan Walters. Walters, Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has been blamed for creating the conditions that led to Benedict’s death due to his anti-LGBTQ+ advocacy.

In January, Walters appointed Chaya Raichik, an anti-LGBTQ+ activist who goes by Libs of TikTok on social media, to serve on a state book-banning committee. Raichik doesn’t live in the state and has no experience in education or library science. Her previous social media posts have led to threats against educators, something she has celebrated.

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at The Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860) is staffed by trans people and will not contact law enforcement. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for youth via chat, text (678-678), or phone (1-866-488-7386). Help is available at all three resources in English and Spanish.

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