‘We must demand justice’: Non-binary teen’s death in Oklahoma sparks national attention

Nex Benedict.
Nex Benedict.

A 16-year-old non-binary student died one day after they were beaten in an altercation in an Oklahoma school bathroom earlier this month, sparking national demands for answers over the circumstances surrounding their death.

Sue Benedict, the mother of Nex Benedict, told The Independent that her child and a trans student were involved in a fight with three older girls in a bathroom on Feb. 7 at Owasso High School, which is just northeast of Tulsa. Benedict was knocked to the ground in that fight and hit their head, their mother said. School officials said in a statement that the bathroom incident lasted “for less than two minutes” before students and a staff member outside of the restroom intervened to break it up.

According to the Owasso Police Department, all of the students involved in the altercation were able to walk to the assistant principal’s office and the nurse’s office, at which point school administrators started taking statements from students in the bathroom and contacted parents/guardians. 

A registered nurse at the school determined that none of the students required ambulance services, but “recommended that Nex Benedict visit a medical facility for further examination,” according to the police. That afternoon, a school resource officer responded to Bailey Medical Center to interview Benedict regarding the incident at the school, police said. The resource officer followed up with Benedict’s parent the following day.

Benedict’s mother told the Independent she was furious when she learned the school never called an ambulance for her child. She was also told that her child was being suspended for two weeks. On the night of the fight, Benedict went to sleep with soreness in their head, their mother told The Independent, and when Benedict was preparing to travel to an appointment in Tulsa the following day, they collapsed in the living room.

The Owasso Fire Department on Feb. 8 responded to a medical emergency involving Benedict and transported them to St. Francis Pediatric Emergency Room, where they died. 

“While the investigation continues into the altercation, preliminary information from the medical examiner’s office is that a complete autopsy was performed and indicated that the decedent did not die as a result of trauma,” the local police said in a statement on Facebook. “At this time, any further comments on the cause of death are currently pending until toxicology results and other ancillary testing results are received. The official autopsy report will be available at a later date. This investigation is ongoing.”

Benedict’s mother told the Independent that her child had experienced multiple instances of bullying since the beginning of last year after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed legislation requiring students to use public school bathrooms in accordance with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Benedict’s mother told the Independent that she previously told her child “to be strong and look the other way” in the face of bullying “because these people don’t know who you are.”

In a new statement on Feb. 21 — after authorities claimed Benedict did not die due to trauma — Benedict’s family told News 9 Tulsa, a CBS affiliate, that authorities should investigate and prosecute liable parties fully, fairly, and expediently. 

“Notwithstanding, the family is independently interviewing witnesses and collecting all available evidence,” the statement noted. “The Benedict family calls on all school, local, state and national officials to join forces to determine why this happened, to hold those responsible to account and to ensure it never happens again.”

Benedict’s death prompted leaders from across the nation to express dismay and reiterate the importance of protecting LGBTQ youth at a time when many states are fighting against the rights of trans youth. In New York, advocates as well as lawmakers representing the state and federal government spoke out about the case.

“Like most of the nation, I’m deeply troubled by the death of Nex Benedict,” Sean Coleman, the executive director of Destination Tomorrow, said in a statement on Facebook. “Our Destination Tomorrow team is grieving this immense loss, and our hearts are with Nex’s family and friends as they grieve. In a hyper-polarized political environment, we’ve seen the normalization of transphobic violence and hate speech directed against young people navigating their early years. My heart breaks for the young people who are exposed to this on a daily basis. Young people should be encouraged to love and celebrate one another, not ostracize or bully those who don’t look or sound like them. Nex had the rest of their life to live, and while an investigation is still ongoing, we know transphobia is to blame.”

“Nex Benedict should be alive today,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York said in a post on X. “The impact of extremist, anti-trans rhetoric and legislation can not be underestimated: it encourages and normalizes the bullying that claimed Nex’s life. As a society, we must open our hearts, call out hate wherever we see it, and enshrine protections for LGBTQI+ individuals into law.”

New York State State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who is gay, said Benedict’s death left him heartbroken.

“Nex was bullied relentlessly simply for being non-binary and ultimately was beaten to death,” Hoylman-Sigal, who represents Manhattan, said on X. “The demonization of trans people has real life consequences. We must stand up to transphobia whenever it occurs and we must demand justice for Nex.”

Out lesbian US Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin also spoke up on X, writing, “The killing of Nex Benedict is heartbreaking. Non-binary and trans kids deserve to feel safe and welcome everywhere, especially at school. I’ll never stop fighting to end this epidemic of hate-filled violence against LGBTQ+ youth.”

Students from Oklahoma and around the nation have started to mobilize in response to Benedict’s death. According to KTUL, an ABC affiliate in Tulsa, there is a peaceful demonstration and walk out slated to take place at Owasso High School on Feb. 26, while The New Jersey Safe Schools Coalition and Columbia High School Spectrum Club are planning a candlelight vigil on Feb. 24 at Maplewood Town Hall in Maplewood, New Jersey.