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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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OPINION | Justice for Nex Benedict

Nathan Rich

Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence. 

Our society is in a time of crisis. As the religious far right continues its attack on the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community, the rhetoric used to demonize and ostracize transgender people has culminated in the deaths of innocent people.

On Feb. 7, 2024, Nex Benedict, an indigenous non-binary student of Choctaw ancestry, became the latest victim of anti-transgender violence in the United States. Benedict, an attendee of Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma, died the night after several older students approached and beat them in a school bathroom. 

According to a news report on the aftermath of the attack, school officials did not seek emergency medical care for Benedict to be taken to a medical facility.

Their grandmother rushed Benedict, suffering head trauma, to the hospital the following day. They died that night. While officials are still investigating the exact cause of death, many reasonably suspect the injuries Benedict suffered from their assailants may be the cause.

In the wake of Benedict’s death, the Department of Education has launched an investigation into Owasso High School on the basis of Benedict’s harassment and assault within the school building. Meanwhile, a report from the Human Rights Campaign revealed that Owasso High School had not taken adequate action to stop the harassment that led to the wanton attack on Benedict.

Hundreds of organizations are calling to investigate the Oklahoma ED for its negligence, beginning the fight to hold Oklahoma’s leaders accountable. It must continue until justice is achieved for Benedict and every other member of the trans community who has been targeted by Oklahoma’s draconian anti-trans policies.

Owasso High School is arguably complicit in Benedict’s death, neglecting to protect its transgender students from the bullying and harassment they face on a daily basis — actions that Oklahoma’s ongoing wave of anti-transgender policies have only amplified. 

Benedict’s death did not happen in a vacuum. It is the tragic culmination of transphobic policies and attitudes within our schools — and unfortunately, the mindset underpinning these policies has crept its way into positions of governmental power.

When asked about such rhetoric and how it affects transgender Oklahomans, Sen. Tom Woods responded to NPR by claiming that Oklahoma is a “Christian state,” stating that he and his fellow lawmakers will “fight” to keep “that filth out of the state of Oklahoma.”

Woods’s outrageous and disrespectful statements rightfully drew ire from the Oklahoma community and represent the danger of religious nationalism seeping into our government. Woods’s statements directly imply a desire to unify church and state, indicative of the Christian nationalist movement gaining further traction in the United States.

His hateful comments represent the continual failure of Christian love in right-wing circles — the repeated inability of the religious far right to love their neighbor as themself, as per the very scripture which Christian nationalists aim to enforce upon us all. Oklahoma is not a Christian state, nor is any part of the country. The separation of church and state must remain so, lest the hatred of people like Woods manifest any more than it already has in public policy.

Woods represents the noxious hatred which we have seen metastasize across the country for decades. It is a deep-seated hatred which targets the LGBTQ+ community in an attempt to eradicate transgender people from public life. It is an irrational hatred, predicated on the fear of things which one neither understands nor has the bravery to educate oneself about.

Transphobia is cowardly by its very nature and seeks to eradicate anything which does not fit within the bounds of cisheteronormativity. It is a direct threat to anyone and anything which dares diverge from this rigid construct — and as Benedict’s death has shown us, transphobic policies and rhetoric will inevitably result in ruthless violence against trans people.

In the face of a movement which seeks to target and erase the LGBTQ+ community, I send this message to my transgender friends and family at Tulane: your resilience has not gone unnoticed. Every breath you take is an act of heroism, a defiant stance in the face of bigotry. Every step you take is one of fortitude, a feat of bravery in a world riddled with hate and cowardice.

Transgender existence is direct resistance against those who oppose their rights, and I want readers to know that this courage is to be celebrated. For those of you who feel alone, know that you are loved. For those of you who feel scared, know that you are brave. You are cherished, no matter your gender, sexuality or romantic orientation.

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