After Nex Benedict’s Death, an LGBTQ+ Youth Crisis Hotline’s Calls From Oklahoma Increased 300%

In the wake of the death of nonbinary high school student Nex Benedict, LGBTQ+ youth in Oklahoma are increasingly seeking help from crisis hotlines, according to new data from the Rainbow Youth Project.

The Indiana-based nonprofit, one of several organizations that provides LGBTQ+ mental health crisis counseling via the national 988 hotline, told KFOR this week that they received 349 calls from Oklahoma between February 16 and 20. RYP founder and executive director Lance Preston told the station that their hotline only received an average of 87 calls per week from Oklahoma prior to Benedict’s death. The nonbinary Choctaw teen died in a local hospital on February 8, the day after they were allegedly beaten up by three older girls in a school bathroom.

Of those Oklahomans who called the hotline, 69% said they were specifically experiencing distress about Benedict’s death, RYP reported. Eighty-five percent said they also experienced bullying at school or online, and 79% feared for their physical safety. More than 10% were students or parents of students at Owasso High School, where Benedict was a straight-A student.

Benedict’s cause of death has still not been officially confirmed. On February 21, Owasso police released a statement declaring that while they would not yet release the full autopsy report, “preliminary information” indicated that “the decedent did not die as a result of trauma.” Benedict’s family also released a statement this week through Biby Law Firm, a Tulsa-based team of injury attorneys, saying they are “independently interviewing witnesses and collecting all available evidence,” as well as asking for privacy.

Preston told KFOR that young LGBTQ+ people’s reasons for calling have shifted dramatically since their hotline went live in 2022, amid the nationwide 988 rollout. “[T]he number one reason for a crisis outreach call was parental rejection, being forced out, scared about coming out,” Preston recalled. “Now, our number one reason is ‘my government hates me,’ ‘my school doesn’t want me,’ ‘they don’t want me to use the bathroom,’ ‘they don’t want me to read a book.’ So it’s really shifted and that’s sad, but that is also across the country.”

Those concerns over anti-LGBTQ+ laws have now come to a head in Oklahoma, where state lawmakers have already introduced 40 such bills this year. LGBTQ+ advocates have condemned Oklahoma Republicans like Gov. Kevin Stitt, accusing them of fomenting violence through bigoted legislation and policies like the state’s anti-trans “bathroom law,” which bans people from accessing bathrooms other than those that match the sex listed on their birth certificate. Some advocates have also condemned Chaya Raichik, the anti-trans “Libs of TikTok” founder who was appointed to a state educational advisory board last month despite not living in Oklahoma.

“You and worthless-ass Chaya Raychick literally have blood on your hands,” Oklahoma City council member Sean Cummings told the state Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Schools Ryan Walters at a hearing on Thursday. “You emboldened these three girls yourself […] Chaya Raichik emboldened these three girls by being on the library board. It’s already difficult to be in high school. It’s very difficult to be different.”

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