Honoring Nex Benedict, a 16-Year-Old Non-Binary Oklahoma High School Student Who Tragically Died One Day After Being Beaten Unconscious in a School Bathroom

by Jose Soto

On March 13th, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office released a partial report from Nex’s autopsy, indicating that Nex may have died by suicide. The cause of death does not change these realities: Nex died one day after being beaten unconscious in a school bathroom, and after more than a year of anti-trans bullying and harassment that went unchecked by their school. In fact, this bullying and harassment started at the top, through the anti-LGBTQ+ policies and rhetoric of Oklahoma Superintendent Ryan Walters. HRC reiterates our call for a full investigation into the death of Nex Benedict, including a full release of the medical examiner’s report. In the meantime, details about the case, HRC’s response, and ways you can get involved in the fight for Justice for Nex, can be found here.

Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, loved nature and watching the television show The Walking Dead. Nex enjoyed drawing, reading and playing Ark and Minecraft. Nex also had a cat, Zeus, whom they loved. Nex’s family trace part of their roots to the Choctaw Nation, and were on a journey to understanding more about Nex’s identity - like many other parents of transgender and non-binary youth. On February 7, 2024, Nex was brutally and viciously beaten inside a bathroom at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma, where Nex was a student. Nex was taken to the hospital and released, only to be readmitted the following day. On February 8, 2024, Nex succumbed to sustained injuries and tragically died.

According to news reports, the Owasso Police Department was called out to Bailey Medical Center by Sue Benedict, Nex’s mother on February 7, the date of the attack, at around 3 p.m. The Owasso Police Department stated they were not made aware of the fight prior to being informed by Nex’s parents, signaling that Nex’s school failed to report the incident to the authorities. News reports also suggest that Nex was released the same day, only to return the following day when they were rushed back to the hospital.

2 News in Oklahoma received a tip from a woman claiming to be the mother of Nex’s best friend. She claimed that Nex had suffered head trauma. She said that “three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl's bathroom.” She also mentioned that one of the girls involved in the incident was “repeatedly beating [Nex’s] head across the floor.”

All students, including trans and gender-expansive students like Nex, have the right to feel safe and protected while attending school. That Nex was only 16 years old compounds this tragic injustice and they should have lived to see a fulfilling and authentic life. We continue to see a horrifying amount of violence against our community, and our community’s youth seem to be bearing the brunt of it all. Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichick, the woman behind “Libs of TikTok”, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks. Their hateful speech is having a direct, negative impact on the lives of trans and gender-expansive folks, including young students like Nex.”

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative

Data from HRC and the University of Connecticut’s 2023 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, detailing findings from a 2022 survey of nearly 13,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-18 nationwide, found that LGBTQ+ youth–and trans and gender-expansive youth in particular–face bullying, harassment, and violence in school at alarming rates. Over half (53.9%) of trans and gender-expansive youth feel unsafe in at least one school setting, with a third (32.8%) reporting they specifically felt unsafe in school restrooms, and half (49.3.%) reporting they felt unsafe in school locker rooms. Two-thirds (62.6%) of trans and gender-expansive youth had been teased or bullied at school at least once in the prior year–over half (55.6%) of whom were teased specifically for their LGBTQ+ identity–and a fifth (20%) had been hit, pushed, or experienced other forms of physical violence at school in just the 30 days prior to the survey. Yet, against this backdrop, schools have largely been unresponsive. Only a quarter of trans youth who were victimized at school were able to report this to a teacher or staff member, and of those who did, half reported that staff helped only a little–or not at all.

Nex’s death also comes at a time when extremist politicians have weaponized trans and gender-expansive identities for political gain, stoking hate and discrimination through their vile rhetoric. Already facing an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ state bills which have direct negative implications on their well-being – from educational bans on LGBTQ+ centric content to non-consensual forced outings– young LGBTQ+ folks, especially young trans and gender-expansive people, can potentially face harsh social and public environments largely influenced by a discourse that undermines their lives. Such legislation is also impacting the safety and well-being of other trans and gender-expansive youth like Nex. In an interview with The Independent Nex’s mother noted that Nex had first begun being bullied after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law that forbids trans and gender-expansive youth to access restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Using data from the same LGBTQ+ Youth study, HRC researchers found that trans and gender-expansive youth who were able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity more frequently were less likely to screen positive for depression or anxiety, feel unsafe at school, or experience school-based bullying and violence.

Against the backdrop of this wave of anti-trans legislation is a rising threat of online hatred and harassment, which is increasingly leading to terrorism and violence in the “real world.” According to HRC research, prominent anti-LGBTQ+ influencers created over a thousand posts targeting schools, districts, libraries and individuals in 2023, all for being LGBTQ+ inclusive. This dangerous social media targeting has offline consequences, including death threats and bomb threats, protests, political attacks, and harassing educators into resigning. The posts targeted schools and libraries in 40 states and Washington, D.C., with individual posts reaching over a million viewers on X, formerly Twitter.

In 2022, Libs of TikTok targeted a teacher in the Owasso School District, the district Nex attended, for speaking out in support of LGBTQ+ students. According to Nex's mother, Nex admired the teacher, who faced threats and harassment and ultimately resigned. In September 2023, Libs of TikTok targeted the principal of John Glenn Elementary School in Oklahoma for performing in drag outside school hours. Days later, the school faced a bomb threat. Last month, Oklahoma superintendent of public schools Ryan Walters appointed Chaya Raichik, Libs of TikTok’s founder, to the state’s library advisory committee.

Owasso Public Schools released the following statement regarding Nex’s death:

"The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student's name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department."

The Owasso Police Department considers Nex’s death an ongoing investigation and are waiting for the results of the autopsy report to move forward accordingly.

Adding to Nex’s tragic death, many initial news reports and social posts used Nex’s deadname and misgendered them by using she/her pronouns. Anti-trans and anti-gender expansive stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices. According to HRC research, it is estimated that approximately two-thirds of all known trans and gender-expansive victims of fatal violence since HRC began tracking in 2013 were misgendered by the media and/or by law enforcement. In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people. HRC, Media Matters and the Trans Journalists Association have also partnered on an FAQ for reporters writing about anti-trans violence.

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality. Doing so must include demanding that social media companies place higher priority on content moderation in the effort of identifying and halting online hate speech. It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of the necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender-expansive community.

More resources:

  • Learn more about the fatal violence cases that HRC is tracking where details are unclear. You may find a list of these cases here.

  • Watch this PSA campaign elevating stories of trans joy and love.

  • Join HRC's Count Me In campaign to take action for transgender and non-binary people.

  • Read these guidelines and this FAQ for journalists to ensure greater accuracy and respect in reporting.

Learn about how transgender and non-binary people are combating transphobia, stigma and anti-trans violence through our Celebrating Changemakers series.