The Death of Nex Benedict Is a Call to Action for All Teachers

Recently, I’ve been sitting in collective grief alongside my trans community. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been grappling with a devastating incident that occurred on February 7, 2024. Nex Benedict, along with their trans friend, found themselves cornered in a high school bathroom by three students. Enduring both verbal slurs and physical assaults, Nex suffered severe head trauma after being repeatedly slammed into the floor. Despite sustaining injuries, they were merely escorted to the office without any medical assistance. Shockingly, instead of the perpetrators facing consequences, Nex was the one suspended and sent home, neglected by the school. Then, tragically, Nex passed away the following day, with head trauma suspected as the primary cause.

Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Indigenous nonbinary individual who was a member of the Choctaw Nation, was a vibrant soul who enjoyed cooking, art, video games, and doting on their cat. However, their adolescence was marred by constant advocacy for their own rights and those of others, as adults consistently failed to provide adequate support.

The loss of Nex has plunged both the queer and Indigenous communities into mourning. 

Another Two-Spirit individual has fallen victim to the violence perpetuated by colonizers, amplifying the sorrow within Indigenous circles. For the trans community, already reeling from numerous losses in recent years, Nex’s untimely death is particularly poignant due to the blatant lack of intervention. Nex’s story resonates deeply with us; their absence serves as a stark reminder of the systemic failures that endanger our existence.

This tragic incident transcends mere bullying—it illustrates a disturbingly wide acceptance of behaviors rooted in systemic discrimination.

Despite relentless efforts by the trans community to highlight the dehumanizing impact of discriminatory laws and national conversations, society continues to propagate an environment where violence against us is normalized. It is a grim irony that Nex met their untimely demise in the very space where the assault on trans rights began: the bathroom.

Months earlier, a teacher at Nex’s school faced termination after appearing in an 2SLGBTQIA+-affirming TikTok and then being criticized on Libs of TikTok, a platform known for its conservative bias. Nex, deeply affected by this injustice, lamented the loss of a supportive figure. While it may be tempting to attribute such incidents to partisan politics, the truth is far more sobering. 

This is not merely a state-specific issue—it is a nationwide epidemic. 

Silence in the face of injustice perpetuates the problem. If the plight of trans individuals only becomes apparent after tragedies like Nex’s, then systemic change remains elusive. This past week, students at Nex’s high school walked out in protest of the ongoing bullying that has been occurring. Why do we, as educators, continually force students to be activists? Why are students forced to speak up for their own safety? 

Educators must acknowledge that our institutions were not designed to be safe havens for queer or Indigenous students; they were conceived within a framework that prioritizes the comfort of white, cisgender males. Efforts to reform such systems face resistance, but the urgency of the task demands collective action from all educators.

Consider this a call to action.

If you claim allyship with the trans community, silence is no longer an option. It’s time to move beyond passive expressions of solidarity and take tangible steps toward advocacy. Attend school board meetings, incorporate inclusive teachings into your curriculum, and advocate for the rights of queer students as fervently as they advocate for their own survival.

The trans community has long been at the forefront of this battle, sacrificing personal comfort in the relentless pursuit of equality. Anti-trans legislation permeates every corner of the nation, threatening the very existence of trans individuals. Now more than ever, we need allies to stand with us in solidarity, amplifying our voices in every school, district, and state.

Take action:

  • Reach out to your local 2SLGTBQIA+ center. Connect, ask how you can support, and learn what issues are facing your community members. 
  • Call the Owasso, Oklahoma, school district and demand the removal of the superintendent. 
  • Advocate for the queer community at local, state, and federal levels.
  • Support Indigenous initiatives that raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Women and Two-Spirit people. Check out Native Hope to learn more and how to offer support.
  • Utilize resources like Learning for Justice for educational materials.
  • Explore Learning for Justice’s Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students for further insights.

Let Nex’s story be a catalyst to inspire change. Together, we can create a future where every individual is valued, respected, and protected in our schools and communities, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

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