What We Know About the Death of Nex Benedict in Oklahoma - The World News

What We Know About the Death of Nex Benedict in Oklahoma

The death of a 16-year-old nonbinary student after an altercation in a high school girls’ bathroom in Oklahoma has drawn national attention and outrage from gay and transgender rights groups that say the student had been bullied because of their gender identity.

Nex Benedict, who often used the pronouns they and them and told relatives that they did not see themselves as strictly male or female, died in early February, one day after the altercation with three girls at Owasso High School. Details over what happened and what exactly caused Nex’s death were unclear, but in a police interview video released Feb. 24, Nex said they had “blacked out” while being beaten on the bathroom floor.

The police said the case was still under investigation.

Nex’s death and the circumstances around it have put school officials and law enforcement under scrutiny. There has been an outpouring of grief across the country, particularly from the L.G.B.T.Q. community, and a renewed focus on the proliferation of policies that restrict gay and transgender rights.

Here’s what we know so far:

The altercation took place on Feb. 7. The Owasso Police Department said in a statement on Feb. 20 that no police report had been made about the fight until after Nex was taken to a hospital by relatives later the same day.

At that point, a school resource officer went to the hospital, the police said. Nex was discharged and went home but was rushed back to the hospital by medics the next day, and died there, the police said.

On Feb. 24, the police released a video of Nex’s interview at the hospital on the day of the altercation, which provided the fullest account yet of what happened.

Nex said in the interview that three girls had beaten them after Nex had poured water on the girls for laughing at them and their friend. Nex said the girls had previously mocked Nex and their friends “because of the way that we dress.”

“We were laughing,” Nex said. “And they had said something like, ‘Why do they laugh like that?’ They were talking about us in front of us.”

“Then all three of them came at me,” Nex added. At one point, Nex hit their head on the bathroom floor, according to Sue Benedict, their grandmother and guardian.

Nex went to the hospital and came home that day. The next day, Nex collapsed at home and was rushed back to the hospital, where they were pronounced dead, Ms. Benedict said.

Officials also released surveillance video from the school on the day of the altercation, showing students, including Nex, entering the bathroom and, separately, Nex walking through the halls with a staff member after the confrontation.

Among the key questions that remain unanswered is how exactly Nex died.

On Feb. 21, the police said preliminary autopsy results found that Nex “did not die as a result of trauma.” The state medical examiner’s office has not yet made public its report on the autopsy and toxicology results.

It is also unclear whether Nex was beaten because of their gender identity. Advocates for nonbinary and transgender students have said that Oklahoma’s policies on gender had led to more reports of confrontations in schools.

And questions remain over why school officials did not contact the police or other officials after the altercation.

In a statement on Feb. 20, the Owasso school district suggested there had been “speculation and misinformation” about the circumstances surrounding the altercation, which it said lasted less than two minutes before being broken up by other students, “along with a staff member.” The school said that all the students involved “walked under their own power to the assistant principal’s office and nurse’s office.”

The incident has renewed scrutiny over anti-transgender legislation in Oklahoma.

The state has several laws that restrict transgender rights, including one that prohibits students from using bathrooms that do not align with their sex at birth. Another law explicitly bans gender neutral markers on birth certificates. Oklahoma also bars minors from receiving gender-transition care.

This year, the State Legislature is considering a bill to prohibit residents from changing their sex designation on birth certificates, and another to require public schools to acknowledge that gender is an “immutable biological trait” and bar people from using names or pronouns that differ from their birth certificates.

The laws are part of a nationwide push by conservatives to restrict gay and transgender rights. Statehouses around the country have been consumed by fights over laws governing them, with at least 23 states having passed bans on gender transition care for minors.

Oklahoma’s superintendent for public schools, Ryan Walters, has been staunch in his anti-transgender rhetoric since assuming the role in 2022. Mr. Walters remained firm in his stance after the incident, and in his first interview since Nex’s death, he told The Times that he does not believe nonbinary or transgender people exist.

“You always treat individuals with dignity or respect, because they’re made in God’s image,” Mr. Walters said. “But that doesn’t change truth.”

Meanwhile, supporters of L.G.B.T.Q. rights have reacted with anger and fear over Nex’s death, saying such restrictive policies on gender were harmful.

“Ryan Walters has created a devastatingly hostile environment for trans, two-spirit and gender-nonconforming students,” said Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, which advocates for transgender and gay rights.

Transgender students said that classmates have seen rhetoric from officials like Mr. Walters as permission to harass and bully them.

“There’s a lot of feelings of helplessness,” said Hali, a transgender girl in high school, who asked that her last name not be used out of concern that she may be targeted by anti-transgender activists. “You always have that little bit of fear that you could be attacked, that you could be one of the victims.”

J. David Goodman and Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting.

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