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High school students in Owasso, Oklahoma staged a walkout Monday to demand justice for Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary sophomore whose death a day after a school beating has captured the attention of the nation.

Wielding signs that read “You matter” and “Trans youth belong here,” the students urged school officials to take bullying against 2SLGBTQIA+ students seriously.

“We know the grieving is not over. Neither is the rage. But as communities in and beyond Oklahoma gathered this weekend to mourn and honor Nex Benedict, we saw so much love and determination in the face of hate and heartache,” Freedom Oklahoma, the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, said in a statement.

Photos of 16-year-old Nex Benedict who died as a result of a brutal attack in their high school bathroom.

Communities seek justice for Nex Benedict

Candles symbolizing mourning were lit at vigils across the nation over the weekend following news of Benedict’s death, which occurred one day after several other students jumped them in the bathroom.

“While there are people all up and down 39th Street the entire world is watching what is happening in Oklahoma right now and they are learning from our playbook,” Nicole Poindexter of Human Rights Campaign said at an Oklahoma City vigil on Saturday. “Gov. Stitt wants to be a top ten state but all I see right now is top ten hate.”

The Owasso Police Department and the Owasso Public Schools District have faced heavy criticism for their response and the delay in informing the public. Meanwhile, the official cause of death has yet to be determined.

Far-right State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, who has defined his adminstration by demonizing racial and gender diversity, released a defensive statement as many Oklahomans accuse him of creating an environment that encourages targeting of LGBTQ+ students.

“Radical left-wing groups and the media have lied about the death of the student and have intentionally lied to push an agenda that was politically motivated to attack me and conservatives in the state of Oklahoma,” Walters said in a video filmed from his car where he misgenders Nex.

Bodycam footage: Officer downplays assault against Nex Benedict

Meanwhile, the nation continues to watch as the tension between Oklahoma officials and the residents they are duty-bound to protect grows.

“Students and families are out in force having to demand the basics: to be safe from bullying and violence. It is appalling and shameful that Nex Benedict endured a year of anti-LGBTQ harassment, then a brutal beating in the school bathroom,” said Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization.

Nex Benedict was attacked in the bathroom on Feb. 7, but local media didn’t find out about the beating until a week later.

In a recently released series of bodycam videos in which the responding officer appeared to downplay the assault, Nex detailed what took place.

Nex said they threw water on a group of girls for making fun of the way they dressed and bullying them for their nonbinary identity. The group responded by ganging up on Nex and beating them until they blacked out.

A responding officer who took Nex’s statements at the hospital appeared reluctant to file a report.

“Both parties are victims, but both parties are also suspects in this. You get what I’m saying? You’re an offender as well,” the officer said.

YouTube video

“Our spirits are exhausted”

“In a state where the Republican-controlled legislature, the State Superintendent Ryan Walters, and Governor Kevin Stitt have pushed laws and rules banning, denying or stigmatizing LGBTQ+ identities, especially those of trans and nonbinary youth, communities across the state remain outraged.

“Our spirits are exhausted and I am trying to do my best to contain my rage. But I think rage is appropriate,” Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City Executive Director Rev. Sheri Dickerson said at Saturday’s OKC Vigil.

Even as the state faces the nation’s gaze, Oklahoma Senator Tom Woods, R-Westville, had no problem showing his disregard for marginalized residents.

“I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Sen. Tom Woods, R-Westville, said at a legislative forum on Friday, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press.

McAfee, who heads Freedom Oklahoma, spoke at the OKC vigil about how the dozens of bills and violent rhetoric targeting LGBTQ+ communities isn’t new. “We’re fighting the latest iteration in a centuries-long project that is colonization which includes demands of forceful assimilation for gender binary,” they said.

As communities nationwide continue to mourn Nex Benedict, demands for accountability continue to reverberate across the state. Notably, the Owasso Police claimed the school “dropped the ball” for its decision not to notify law enforcement. The investigation into wrongdoing remains ongoing, and the medical examiner’s report has yet to be released.

A light in the dark

In the meantime, McAfee vows to continue fighting for a state that respects the life, dignity and pursuit of happiness for all Oklahomans.

“We make this promise to you: we will carry Nex’s light forward. We will shine that light on the harms Oklahoma officials have willingly overlooked. We will make sure that light is a beacon of love and community for 2SLGBTQ+ folks,” McAfee said. “We will continue to talk about the intersections of 2SLGBTQ+ hate and the MMIR [Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives] epidemic. And we will continue to grow this movement, to work together, to build a future where all 2SLGBTQ+ folks have the safety to thrive.”

To seek mental health support, call Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678, or call the LGBT Hotline 888-843-4564.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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