Editorial: Systemic transphobia killed Nex Benedict

Graphic Graphic Carl Bindman

Nex Benedict was a 16-year-old non-binary high school student with Choctaw ancestry living in Oklahoma. Benedict went by he/they pronouns and, according to close friends, was a closeted trans boy. The Link mentions this because multiple states have enacted pronoun laws in schools to silence trans youth.

He loved reading, drawing and playing video games. Cats were his favourite animal, and he took very special care of his own kitten, Zeus. Benedict also had a passion for cooking and often prepared meals for his loved ones. Robin Gray, who dated Benedict, holds a precious memory of him in which he made chicken wings for dinner one night, then pancakes the next morning. 

His creative potential extended to the arts, too. In his art classes, he could produce “masterpiece” illustrations in just under 30 minutes according to his loved ones.  His laugh was infectious to his friends, which often got him in trouble during classes. 

The world only got to know of Nex Benedict after his death on Feb. 8. 

On Feb. 7, he was physically attacked by three girls in the women’s bathroom at Owasso High School until he blacked out. Oklahoma passed a bill mandating students use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate in May 2022.

While he regained consciousness afterwards, the school decided no ambulance was needed to check on his health, despite his face being badly bruised and scratched. Instead, he was suspended for two weeks for getting into a fight.

The next day, Benedict’s condition suddenly worsened. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Not only is his death a catastrophic failure on the school, but a testament to the sickening bigotry that plagues the lawmakers of the state. When asked about Benedict’s death, Oklahoma Senator Tom Woods made a controversial remark regarding the LGBTQIA2S+ community, stating he represents a constituency that  "doesn't want that filth." 

Even in death, Benedict was not granted respect for his existence as a trans person. A month later, the completed autopsy has yet to be made public. The police claim he did not die due to trauma. A toxicology test is still pending by the time of publication.

Even if his death was a result of a possible suicide, the school, state, and country had a duty to safeguard him against the abuse he faced, including bullying that he endured for a year. This responsibility also extends to protecting all queer youth from harmful rhetoric by their own senators that targets these kids. 

Benedict was a child, first and foremost. Beyond his trans identity, he was a person equally as deserving as anyone else to live, grow and learn about himself. 

Benedict’s death should sound alarms within Quebec as well. 

The Coalition Avenir Québec’s comité des sages, or ‘committee of wise men,’ whose purpose is apparently meant to offer advice to the government on gender-related matters, does not platform a single transgender or genderqueer person. This committee of so-called (cis, pasty and old) wise men seems ill-informed given the tens of thousands of people attending anti-trans protests occurring in the province.

On the federal level, the Conservative Party is openly admitting its desire to limit a trans person’s ability to exist in public. This includes criminalizing gender-affirming care for youth, preventing access to public bathrooms and gutting affirmative action employment programs. On every front, people like Benedict are viewed as inconveniences to heteronormative ways of living.

The cost of colonial understandings of gender and sexuality is always paid in the suffering of queer Indigenous children. Our dangerously heteronormative institutions have always, and will always act in the best interest of the status quo. Our failure to shield trans children is not just negligence; it's a deliberate act of harm and exclusion.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 11, published March 5, 2024.