Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Heartbreaking Story of Nex Benedict, the Nonbinary Teen Who Died After a School Bathroom Beating

HomeU.S.The Heartbreaking Story of Nex Benedict, the Nonbinary Teen Who Died After...

The morning of February 7th started like any other for 16-year-old Nex Benedict. They got up, got dressed in their unique style of masculine-leaning clothing, and headed to Owasso High School in Oklahoma. Little did Nex know, this would be the last day they would walk those halls as a student.

By the end of the school day, Nex would be in the hospital with serious injuries from a brutal beating in the bathroom. Just over 24 hours later, Nex would be dead.

While Nex’s autopsy results are still pending, their grieving family believes the teen’s gender identity played a major role in the relentless bullying they endured. They are calling for a full investigation into the school’s handling of reported harassment.

Newly released police bodycam footage provides a heartbreaking look into Nex’s final living hours. My aim here is to honor Nex’s memory by sharing their story, examining the factors that may have led to their untimely death, and exploring what changes need to be made to protect LGBTQ+ youth.

The Bodycam Videos: Nex Describes the Attack

In the videos, Nex sits propped up in a hospital bed, an IV line snaking under the blanket. Their dyed hair peeks out from under a bandage wrapped around their head. They speak slowly, pausing to catch their breath.

Despite their obvious pain and trauma, Nex wanted to tell the officer their side of the story. They recounted how a group of girls had been “antagonizing” them and their friends in the days prior, mocking their style of dress and laugh.

On that fateful day, the bullies again commented on Nex’s appearance in a disparaging way. Having enough of the harassment, Nex walked up and poured water on the girls. That’s when things turned violent.

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“All three of them came at me,” Nex recalled. “They grabbed onto my hair. I grabbed onto them. I threw one of them into a paper towel dispenser and then they got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground.”

With Nex pinned down, the girls allegedly bashed their head into the bathroom floor until they blacked out. Nex rated their pain as “bad.” Their mother, Sue Benedict, had demanded police come to the hospital after the school failed to report the incident.

A Mother’s Pleas Go Unanswered

The footage captures Sue Benedict’s raw anger and frustration over the situation. She criticized the school resource officer for not immediately responding to the attack on hospital grounds.

“I want to prosecute,” Sue firmly told the officer. “The school should have called you.”

When the officer explained Nex could also face charges for squirting water first, Sue reluctantly agreed to hold off on pressing charges. But she made it clear this wasn’t over.

“Next time those girls mess with my child, I want you there,” Sue asserted.

Tragically, there would be no next time. After leaving Nex with well wishes to see them back at school soon, the officer got a call the next morning that the teenager had died at home.

So what went wrong?

The Gender Identity Factor: A Painful Pattern

While Nex’s autopsy results are still pending, their family believes their gender identity was a major factor in the bullying they endured.

Nex used they/them pronouns and dressed in a masculine gender-nonconforming style. Their mother was still learning to adjust to Nex’s pronouns after they came out as nonbinary.

Students and teachers reportedly knew about the harassment Nex faced but did little to intervene. Nex even told the officer they didn’t report the bullying because they “didn’t see the point.”

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This painful pattern is all too familiar for LGBTQ+ youth. According to national surveys, over 75% of transgender and nonbinary youth feel unsafe at school due to their gender expression. They are also significantly more likely to experience assault and injury on school property compared to their cisgender peers.

Nex’s case closely parallels that of 16-year-old transgender boy Fred Martinez, who was bludgeoned to death in Colorado by a man who targeted him for his gender identity. Fred’s murder in 2001 was one of the first high-profile cases to draw national attention to violence against trans youth.

While public awareness has grown over the past two decades, current political divides over gender issues and a patchwork of state laws leave major gaps in protecting LGBTQ+ students.

Owasso, Oklahoma: An Unwelcoming Environment

The environment Nex entered each day at Owasso High School appears to have been far from welcoming. School district policies did not specifically protect students based on gender identity. There was no Gay-Straight Alliance or diversity training for staff.

In fact, Owasso made headlines just last year over a controversial ban on teaching critical race theory and certain books with LGBTQ+ themes. Teachers reported feeling pressure to avoid diversity topics, and students held protests demanding change.

It seems administrators were more focused on restricting classroom discussions about gender and race than addressing incidents of harassment happening under their noses.

Sue Benedict alluded to a larger problem at the school, pleading on the 911 call after Nex’s death: “I hope this ain’t from [their] head. They were supposed to have checked [them] out good.”

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Nex’s family is now urging officials at the local, state and national level to work together to investigate why this tragedy occurred and prevent similar cases in the future. They seek accountability and systemic reforms to protect students of all gender identities and expressions.

Changes Needed to Protect LGBTQ+ Youth

So where do we go from here? What policy and cultural changes could create safer school environments for students like Nex?

For starters, national LGBTQ+ rights organizations recommend instituting enumerated anti-bullying policies that explicitly prohibit harassment based on gender identity and expression. States like California have had success reducing bullying and hostile school climates after implementing more protective laws.

However, enacting supportive policies is only the first step. Schools must actively foster cultures of inclusivity through faculty training, student counseling, and diversity curricula. Owasso High School’s actions last year clearly sent the opposite message.

On an individual level, we all have a responsibility to call out anti-LGBTQ+ remarks and behavior. This creates a social stigma against prejudice that can influence wider change. Had more students and teachers stood up for Nex, would they still be alive today?

Honoring Nex’s Memory

The circumstances around 16-year-old Nex Benedict’s death are still developing. But we already know enough to understand the key role harassment played in cutting short a precious young life.

May Nex’s memory inspire all of us to build a society where kids can show up as their true selves without fear. Where diversity is celebrated, not suppressed. And where all youth feel supported and empowered to reach their full potential.

That’s the future Nex deserved – and the one we must keep fighting for.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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