March 12, 2024

Oklahoma Policy Institute: Nex Benedict’s death shows policy failures, harms from inaction

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OK Policy’s Youth Justice Policy Analyst Jill Mencke and Data Analyst Polina Rozhkova offer commentary on the bullying and death of Nex Benedict.

The recent death of Nex Benedict — a nonbinary student from Owasso High School who died a day after a confrontation with bullies — has garnered worldwide attention because advocates have been warning that the recent uptick in hateful anti-2SLQBTQ+ laws would create an atmosphere where people could be hurt or killed. Year over year, bills targeting transgender individuals have surged across the country, particularly in Oklahoma which leads the nation in such measures.

In this instance, many fingers have pointed at Senate Bill 615, which was signed into law in 2022 just a few months before the start of the 2022-23 school year. This bill requires individuals to use only the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate, and it further penalizes schools with funding reductions for noncompliance. In an interview, Nex’s mother stated that Nex had endured bullying since the beginning of the 2023 school year.

There is also a major question about whether school officials took sufficient action to ensure all students were in good health after the incident. When Nex returned home the day of the fight, Nex reported to their mother that the school had failed to call an ambulance or the police. Nex had arrived home with bruises over their face and eyes, and scratches on the back of their head. They died the following day. Owasso police have said the cause of death was not caused by trauma but the fight has yet been ruled out as a cause of death. Little else is known publicly.

Authorities continue to piece together the cause of death and the full picture of what transpired when Nex had a confrontation with bullies in the high school bathroom. However, it’s clear there is a connection between Nex’s treatment at school and the harmful policies that specifically target people living with trans identities.

Nex’s story is a case of bad policy taken to its extremes. Nex is not the first trans student in Oklahoma to suffer as a result of this harmful policy. It’s unfortunate that the ultimate tragedy happened before this issue captured the attention of people all over the world. Policymakers have a duty to their constituents to enact policies that reduce harm, not perpetuate it. It is clear that with SB 615, the deadly unintended consequences were not valued in the passage of the law.

In response to Nex’s death, some elected officials have said there is no place for bullying in Oklahoma schools and that “bullies must be held accountable.” There is little doubt that bullying occurred in that Owasso bathroom, which stemmed from the anti-trans rhetoric running rampant in recent years.

Read the full commentary here. 

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