Federal Authorities Are Officially Investigating Nex Benedict’s School District

This story contains descriptions of violence against a trans person.

Following the tragic death of Nex Benedict, a trans teen of Choctaw ancestry, the US Department of Education has opened a formal investigation into whether the 16-year-old’s Oklahoma school district “failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment,” according to a letter released Friday.

Benedict, whom friends said used both he/him and they/them pronouns, was reportedly attacked in a bathroom at Owasso High School by three girls on February 7. Benedict collapsed at home the following day, after which they were rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead. His death has sparked national outrage in the weeks since, with protests and calls for the removal of Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

On February 21, HRC president Kelley Robinson wrote to the Department of Education (DOE), asking the office to investigate whether the “documented instances of bullying, violence, and harassment against Nex” that had taken place over the course of the previous school year violated “Nex’s rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972,” which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The DOE responded to HRC on March 1, stating in a letter that they would open an investigation.

In a press release on Friday, Robinson expressed gratitude to the Department of Education for investigating the incident. “Nex Benedict deserved to go to school without fear of bullying and should be alive today,” Robinson said. “No investigation will ever be able to make up for the loss of Nex’s life, but this investigation is an important step toward ensuring that all students in Owasso Public Schools can learn free from discrimination or harassment. As this investigation continues, we can all honor Nex’s life by fighting against the wave of anti-trans bills and rhetoric sweeping the country.”

“Many of these efforts are focused on demonizing transgender and gender expansive youth specifically, including through the false suggestion that the presence of transgender or nonbinary youth in girls’ restrooms is inherently predatory,” the letter reads.

Robinson’s letter says that Oklahoma is “one of the nation’s top five promulgators of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation,” having considered more than 85 anti-LGBTQ+ bills since 2015 and passing seven into law. One of those laws, passed in 2022, restricts trans students from using bathrooms and changing facilities that don’t align with the sex on their birth certificate. The letter also cites an article by the U.K. newspaper The Independent, which noted that Benedict’s peers reportedly started bullying him in earnest just a few months after that law was enacted.

Bodycam footage released last week by the Owasso Police Department shows Benedict describing three girls making fun of him and his friend “because of the way that we dress.” Nex said they poured water on the girls, and in response, they said that the girls “started beating the shit out of me.” The officer interviewing Nex and their mom told them that if Nex had not poured water on one of the girls, thereby “initiating” the fight, Nex would have been “a true victim of assault and battery.” Benedict was discharged from the hospital but collapsed at home the next day. He was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital.

While the Owasso Police Department (OPD) initially stated that Nex “did not die as a result of trauma,” they’ve since stated that they have not ruled out the fight as a factor in Nex’s death.

Get the best of what’s queer. Sign up for Them’s weekly newsletter here.