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Rest in power Nex Benedict

Last week we were made aware of a possible hate-motivated attack in the Owasso school district, leading to the death of the targeted student. While the information we have been able to gather leaves us with a still incomplete picture, we know that Nex Benedict, the student who died, faces being deadnamed and misgendered in death, after a horrific attack that killed Nex, possibly because of Nex’s TGNC+ identity. While we continue to piece together the full story, we wanted to reach out to our community grappling with this horrific harm, and the grief we all share as we reflect on the growing anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments our youngest community members are facing more often, fueled by state law and the rhetoric around it, words and actions of our state elected officials, and the growing platforms those in power are giving to people like Chaya Raichik who continues to use her platform in a way that leads others to threaten real harm at Oklahoma kids. We also recognize that Nex both deserves to have their memory honored and their death investigated, and that we live in a time where the incomplete facts of this story are being used to drive people to certain sites/as clickbait. And we always want to be cautious of the balance of sharing a story and possibility of fueling that norm of sharing tragedy for clicks or doing so without fully respecting the grief of those impacted or the person who themselves was harmed.

Some memories of Nex from folks who have reached out in concern, horror, grief, in hopes that Nex will be remembered not only for a tragic death, but for pursuit of an authentic life: Nex loved rock music, and often bonded with others over rocking out to music. Nex was unfailingly kind, and always searched for the best in people. Nex was Choctaw*.

All 2SLGBTQ+ Oklahomans deserve the safety to thrive. And that is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for 2SLGBTQ+ youth in Oklahoma schools who face a growing list of targeted harms from bans on access to playing sports that align with their gender, to single sex bathroom and changing room restrictions that further ostracize and endanger students, non-consensual outing by school officials, shrinking access to safe adults at schools because of mandatory outing policies, censorship in school libraries that results in less 2SLGBTQ+ representation, chilled speech that makes 2SLGBTQ+ identities all but erased in school spaces at all, and a list of newly proposed harms making their way through this session with rhetoric that drives 2SLGBTQ+ hate, especially hatred of and harms towards 2STGNC+ people.

To anyone seeking community in this time of collective grieving and rage, our Freedom Oklahoma monthly community groups are an expansive space to gather together virtually. This month’s groups are scheduled for February 20-22. You can register to join those spaces, here.

We have heard varying reports of how Nex communicated gender, and have avoided using pronouns for Nex here, as we don’t have 100% clarity on Nex’s correct pronouns, and will not engage in the harm of guessing or misgendering Nex or using incorrect pronouns. Using someone’s correct pronouns has a measurable impact on that person’s wellbeing, and we ask that others respect Nex in death until, if at all, we’re able to learn Nex’s correct pronouns. For more information about pronoun usage, here is GLSEN’s guide to pronouns.

Nex should still be alive. Nex deserved not only a safe and nurturing environment to learn, but an environment that actively disrupted anti-2STGNC+ rhetoric and worked to ensure that vulnerable students were safe. Owasso schools failed to create that environment for Nex. And we know that is the story for too many kids across our state. We want to be clear, whether Nex died as a direct result of injuries sustained in the brutal hate-motivated attack at school or not, Nex’s death is a result of being the target of physical and emotional harm because of who Nex was. This harm is absolutely related to the rhetoric and policies that are commonplace at the Oklahoma Legislature, the State Department of Education, and the Governor’s office, with regard to dehumanizing 2STGNC+ people.

Even as we draft this, all of the words available to us feel inadequate to convey the sense of grief, rage, and fear we feel as individuals, and as a community. We hope that you’ll forgive us where it feels words in this instance fall short, and continue to be in community with us as we figure out how we best honor Nex, and disrupt the harm our state is enacting as a matter of policy and practice that allowed for Nex to be killed at all, and especially as a result of harm possible in a school environment.

We know that stories amplifying attacks on 2SLGBTQ+ people have a measurable negative impact on mental health. We want to offer the note 2SLGBTQ+ affirming crisis support exists through such organizations as, Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860), the Trevor Project (call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678), and the LGBT Hotline (888-843-4564).

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Nex as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. We felt it especially important to uplift Nex’s Indigenous identity, given the disproportionate harm Two Spirit and Indigiqueer people face and the importance of tribal sovereignty with regard to jurisdiction in the face of alleged criminal acts. We have learned in the time since our statement that Nex’s tribal affiliation was misidentified to us, and that Nex is Choctaw, not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. We are grateful to the folks who helped us make this clarification, and grateful to Chief Hoskin and the Cherokee Nation for their statement supporting Nex’s grieving community and the effort to find answers. We know despite our intentions, misidentifying Nex’s tribal affiliation caused harm, and for that we apologize. We’ll also note while several folks shared Nex’s Indigenous identity was important to Nex, we ultimately do not have confirmation of citizenship from the Choctaw Nation. We respect tribal sovereignty with regard to recognizing who is and is not a citizen of a tribal nation, and we don’t wish to suggest infringing on that sovereignty in any way.

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