We Owe It to Nex Benedict to Do Better by Bullied Teens

There’s much we don’t know about why Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager in Owasso, Okla., died a day after a fight in a high school bathroom. But there are some things we do know, and all of them add up to tragedy.

We know that 16-year-old Nex, who often went by they/them pronouns with peers, was bullied at school. According to Sue Benedict, their biological grandmother and guardian, the bullying started in earnest last year. We know that Nex didn’t report the recent encounters to teachers or school officials. “I didn’t really see the point in it,” they are seen telling a police officer in a body-cam video released by the Owasso Police Department. “I told my mom, though.”

We don’t know definitively why these students were bullying Nex, but we know that they targeted at least one other gender-nonconforming student, and we know that Nex did not personally know their tormentors. When the police officer asked why the students were harassing them, Nex says, “because of the way that we dress.” Later they add that the girls didn’t like the way they and their friends laugh.

We know that Nex responded to the harassment by pouring water on the students, but we also know the bathroom fight didn’t appear to be an even match. “I got jumped at school. 3 on 1, had to go to the ER,” Nex texted a family member after the fight. The family’s attorney stated that the teen was “attacked and assaulted in a bathroom by a group of other students.” Nex collapsed at home the next day.

We also know there’s a new law requiring students in Oklahoma to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth, and we know that the law has spawned a kind of vigilante justice. “That policy and the messaging around it has led to a lot more policing of bathrooms by students,” Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, told The Times. “There is a sense of, ‘Do you belong in here?’”

The investigation of Nex Benedict’s death is ongoing. Last week, the Owasso Police Department said that preliminary information from the medical examiner, which was based on an autopsy, indicated that Nex “did not die as a result of trauma.” The statement did not provide a cause of death.

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