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Their Name was Nex.

Nex Benedict was a 16-year-old non-binary person who was attacked by classmates in their high school bathroom in Owasso, Oklahoma on February 7, 2024, and died the next day. We at New Bern Pride are shocked by this violent attack on one of our LGBTQIA+ siblings…no, we are not shocked. We are mournful. We are angry. But we are not shocked. This level of violence is all too common to queer people, including trans/non-binary youth. Locally, we have seen such violence take the lives of trans people such as Jenna Franks and KC Johnson. We naturally condemn such violence. We also condemn what is often the final indignity faced by murdered trans and non-binary people: being deadnamed and misgendered in the media.

But that’s not enough.

We must acknowledge the connection between what happened to Nex and the virulently anti-queer and particularly anti-trans/non-binary rhetoric in contemporary politics. Oklahoma is a textbook example of how this rhetoric has infected law and governance. The state passed Senate Bill 615, which forces trans and non-binary youth in schools to use the bathroom of their assigned gender at birth, a law reminiscent of North Carolina’s infamous HB2. The state explicitly prohibits non-binary markers on birth certificates, like North Carolina. The state has banned gender affirming treatment to anyone under 18, again, like North Carolina. An infamous anti-trans social media influencer was placed on the state’s Library Media Advisory Committee and used her platform to attack a teacher at Nex’s very high school; one they reportedly admired. Having a trusted teacher or staff member can provide a safe place for queer students, but laws in many states, including both Oklahoma and North Carolina, force the outing of such students to parents that may reject them, or worse.

The reaction from state officials in Oklahoma has been beyond appalling. The very official who banned changing gender markers in school records and made that baffling appointment previously mentioned, used this tragedy to continue to push anti-trans rhetoric. A state senator went further, equating being trans or non-binary to “filth” that shouldn’t “be in Oklahoma.” This should be a wakeup call to elected officials in that state and others, including our own, that their actions have consequences, often deadly. Knowing that the next tragedy could be in our own backyard, we call on the North Carolina General Assembly to immediately repeal anti-queer laws, especially those passed last year specifically targeting trans youth. We call for such laws to be replaced with a comprehensive civil rights law that protects all LGBTQIA+ North Carolinians. We also call on school officials to be better trained in how best to protect their queer students from harm. There have been enough tragedies such as this. Nex’s death must not be in vain.

*If you need support, New Bern Pride provides a monthly youth support group. Please contact us for details.

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