Over 40 of Nex Benedict’s Classmates Walked Out to Protest the School’s Bullying Policies

This article contains descriptions of anti-trans violence.

At least 40 Owasso High School (OHS) students walked out of class on Monday, February 26 in protest of their school’s bullying policies, NBC News reported. The walkout comes as the community mourns the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old OHS student of Choctaw ancestry who died the day after reportedly being beaten up in a school bathroom by three other students. Benedict had been targeted by bullies who tormented him over being gender nonconforming, his mother said.

Benedict, who used he/him and they/them pronouns, died on February 8. His mother, Sue Benedict, told The Independent that during the fight, he was attacked by three older girls, and at some point his head hit the floor. The girls reportedly hurt Nex so badly that bruises formed around their eyes. Benedict received medical treatment at Bailey Medical Center and was discharged later that day. The next day, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. During the walkout, students carried signs with statements like “trans youth belong” and “hope will never be silent.”

The Owasso Police Department (OPD) issued a statement about the incident on February 21, much of which was identical to OHS’ own statement released the day before. OPD stated that preliminary information indicated that Nex “did not die as a result of trauma.” Journalist Judd Legum, who has been independently covering Nex’s story, criticized the statement, asking why the police would release partial information without having a full report from the medical examiner.

“There’s been bullying issues [at school]. This time, the bullying has gone so far that a student has passed,” Kane, a nonbinary student and one of the organizers of the walkout, told NBC. “To me, it doesn’t matter if Nex passed from a traumatic brain injury or if they passed from suicide. What matters is the fact that they died after getting bullied, and that is the story for so many other students. I’ve been close to ending it myself because of bullying. It’s not new for so many students.”

Following Benedict’s death, a number of LGBTQ+ advocates have condemned Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik and Republican lawmakers for promoting rhetoric and policy that has fostered anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. Schools and teachers that Raichik has publicly accused of “grooming” children have reported bomb and death threats right after being featured in Libs of TikTok posts. In May 2022, a bill requiring public school students to use bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates became law in Oklahoma. As the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma pointed out, over the past few years in particular, Republican state superintendent Ryan Walters has consistently targeted LGBTQ+ students and teachers. In January, he implemented an emergency rule to prevent students from changing the gender listed on school records.