As the state remains in the limelight following the death of non-binary student Nex Benedict, an Oklahoma State Senator publicly called the 2SLGBTQ+ community “filth.”

At a legislative forum in Tahlequah, Okla. last Friday Senator Tom Woods, R-Westville, was asked about his thoughts on the death of the Owasso High School student. Woods began to answer by saying that the state is a Republican super-majority. 

He was then heard saying “I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma.” Woods continued, “We are a religious state, we are going to fight to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma.”

The Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event as an opportunity for the public to interact with their legislative representatives. One member of the crowd, Cathy Cott, pressed the panel about the anti-2SLGBTQ+ legislation that’s up for consideration during this year’s session.

She then brought up the death of Nex Benedict, which is when the state Senator responded. “My heart goes out to that scenario if that is the case, but we’re a Republican super-majority.”

Reports say that there was a mixed response from the crowd. Woods’ statement elicited claps of agreement from some, while others were shocked by it.

In the aftermath of the backlash Woods has received he decided to speak out to defend his words. In a press release, Woods stated that any instance of a child losing their life is horrible. But the statement didn’t end there. He continued, “I also want to say that I stand behind what I believe in. The groups and individuals who push gender reassignment on children in our schools, and anyone else who is trying to normalize behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated, is unacceptable in my mind.” Instead of apologizing for his comments, he doubled down on his stance.

To close out his statement he said, “I will continue to push for a day when kids can be kids again and be free from the pressure of conforming to radical ideologies.”

State Senators Weigh In

After the story broke several senators spoke out about the comments made at Friday’s forum. 

Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd released a statement saying, “As elected officials, we are held to a higher standard. Words have consequences, and this kind of conduct is unbecoming of an elected official. It is our duty to represent and protect everyone, and not make things worse.”

The Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat also weighed in. “In my opinion, he had a serious lapse of judgment and it has distracted from the mission and good work we are attempting to advance on behalf of all Oklahomans.”

State Leadership Responds to Nex Benedict’s Death

In the days following the initial release of information surrounding the student’s death many state leaders made public statements. However, others weren’t as demeaning as the remarks from the Oklahoma State Senator.

Rep. Mauree Turner, the state’s only non-binary Representative, called for a moment of silence on the House floor last Monday.

“I don’t think it’s lost on me that we lost a student far too soon in Oklahoma and that happens often at the rhetoric and the fuel of some of the things we do here.” Turner continued, “I hope that you’ll keep them in your thoughts and prayers and specifically, if you live in the Owasso area, that you reach out to the family.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond posted on social media saying, “As a parent and grandparent, my heart breaks for the tragic death of the Owasso student. Because investigators are still working to determine what precipitated this tragedy and the student’s cause of death, it is too early to jump to conclusions.” He continued the post, “What is clear, however, is that our children are precious and should not have to endure the cruelty of others, especially when they are in school. Bullying must not be tolerated in any form.”

Superintendent Ryan Walters spoke about Benedict’s death at the State Board of Education meeting last Thursday. “Losing a student is always extremely difficult, and we should be keeping Owasso families [and] communities in our prayers. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy.” He went on to say, “We’ve had a lot of folks that have rushed to have an opinion and judgment there in the wake of a tragedy. What I would ask is that we wait while there is little information available.” 

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OSDE Anti-LGBTQ+ History

Oklahoma State Senator Tom Woods isn’t alone in his sentiments regarding the LGBTQ+ community.

Walters has faced scrutiny for his involvement in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Recently, he appointed “Libs of TikTok” creator Chaya Raichik to a library advisory committee. Often targeting 2SLGBT+ people, Raichik’s inflammatory content is well-known. Walters appointed her to the council despite her not being an Oklahoma resident. Many people question whether she can serve on a committee in a state where she doesn’t reside.

In an interview with Taylor Lorenz, a journalist from The Washington Post, Raichik stated that Benedict’s death is “horrible” and “very tragic.” Lorenz then asked if, theoretically, Nex should have been able to receive gender-affirming care. Raichik misgendered the teen and said they should not be allowed to undergo irreversible puberty blockers. 

GnRHa is a common puberty-blocking therapy that is a reversible treatment. If an individual ceases taking the drug their body will revert to its state pre-therapy. 

It is unclear if Raichik has yet to have any direct influence on school library policy. However, her influence on Oklahoma schools predates her committee appointment. In August of last year, Raichik shared a post of Tulsa school librarian. The Tulsa school and librarian were then victims of multiple bomb threats.

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