Wage hike costs workers Biden should listen Submit a column
Nex Benedict

The world Nex Benedict deserved isn't hard to create. It just takes love and respect.

None of this intolerance is easy. And there are ways Oklahoma, or any state for that matter, could make the world a better place for a child like Nex Benedict.

Nex Benedict will be 16 years old forever.

And while we wait to learn exactly what caused the Oklahoma teenager’s death, we know many things with certainty:

Nex’s final days on this earth were that targeted the teen’s gender identity.

That bullying erupted into , and landed Nex in the hospital.

The state of Oklahoma and, in particular, the state’s school superintendent, by implementing policies and making statements that make life harder on a small percentage of kids known to be at higher risk of bullying and suicide.

A photograph of Nex Benedict is projected during a candlelight service in Oklahoma City on Feb. 24, 2024.

We don't need an autopsy to know Oklahoma failed Nex Benedict

There may be no straight line between Nex’s death and the bullying or the grown-up state officials whose actions have created a permission structure that allows such bullying. But isn’t the fact that this 16-year-old endured bullying right up until the last day of life reason enough to condemn the circumstances that let any of it happen?

Republicans and abortion rights:Reproductive health was an election minefield for Republicans. It got worse with IVF.

Here’s a simple fact that won’t change, regardless of a final autopsy report: It’s not hard to imagine a world in which Nex felt safe.

In fact, that’s a world far easier to create than the one we’re living in, the one where adults spend hours and days and years building laws and permission structures that encourage others to bully children who want nothing more than a chance to live as their authentic selves.

Nex Benedict being checked out in hospital room after bullying incident

On Wednesday, from Oklahoma and across the country called on the state legislature to “immediately remove Ryan Walters from his position as Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction and to begin an investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education to determine what actions and policies have led to a culture where rampant harassment” of gender nonconforming students “has been allowed to go unchecked.”

'Woke gender games'? State official's language encourages bullying.

In response, Walters fell back on bigoted, right-wing platitudes, that he will not “play woke gender games, and I will not back down to a woke mob.”

: “We've seen radical leftists who've tried to create this idea of gender fluidity, which frankly, it confuses students, and causes all kinds of chaos in the classroom and chaos with families.”

So it's "radical" to want children to feel safe and accepted? Seems more radical to target children for political gain.

The future of public schools:Welcome to the GOP's new education agenda: Loot our public schools for private vouchers

Walters's views are both devoid of compassion and flatly wrong. As , “Every major medical association recognizes the vital role of gender-affirming care” and attributed “increased bullying” to the “significantly higher rates of suicidal ideation” among transgender youth.

Oklahoma lawmakers have been openly hostile to LGBTQ+ people

This has been felt in his home state: A , an LGBTQ+ crisis intervention organization, found that “48% of LGBTQ youth in Oklahoma seriously considered suicide in the past year, including 55% of transgender and nonbinary youth.”

Oklahoma lawmakers have put on gender-affirming care and barred transgender students from using school bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Walters recently hired a rabidly anti-trans out-of-state social media figure to serve on the state’s Library Media Advisory Committee, a grotesque political stunt and a blaring insult to every LGBTQ+ person in the state.

Desha Love participates in a community candlelight vigil on Feb. 25, 2024, in Owasso, Oklahoma, for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died the day after a fight in a high school bathroom.

None of this intolerance is easy. And there are ways Oklahoma, or any state for that matter, could make the world a better place for a child like Nex.

It is imperative that allies educate themselves and help create that reality. Here are some things you can do.

Respect names and pronouns – it's not hard to do

If a transgender or nonbinary person tells you they are using different pronouns than what they previously used, practice using them. Make sentences in your head using the person’s correct pronouns. If you make a mistake, apologize without fanfare and remember it next time. The same thing goes for names. If you hear someone else misgender or deadname a transgender person you know, correct them – even if the trans person in question may never know about it.

Monitor anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and vote accordingly

Transphobic legislation mostly appears at the state level. According to the ACLU, state legislators across the country have filed during the 2024 session. Not all of these bills will become law; in fact, 21 of those bills have already been defeated. They do add to the fear that transgender and nonbinary people in the United States are feeling. Look up what laws are being filed in your state, and who is filing them. Come November, vote with transgender people in mind.

Mae Keller, a senior, carries a "Trans Kids Matter" sign and cheers as hundreds of students walk out of school on Transgender Day of Visibility outside Omaha Central High School Friday, March 31, 2023 in Omaha, Neb.

Support and learn from groups that help LGBTQ+ people

Get involved in your state’s LGBTQ+ advocacy group. has been at the forefront of sharing Nex’s story and promoting candlelight vigils, but they also hold events and provide resources to the community. has a comparable nonprofit, and they deserve your attention, your time and your money.

A child is a child, regardless of identity. Try to make their life better.

If you know someone who is transgender or nonbinary, know that they are so much more than their gender. They are still your child, your relative, your neighbor or your classmate. Nex’s friends and family say the teenager was an artist who loved to cook and play Minecraft, just like lots of other teens. Check in on the transgender people in your life in this moment of grieving.

There are children like Nex across the country, who know who they are and are trying to exist within a system that punishes them for existing. You can’t legislate them away. Gender diversity has existed for across different cultures, and will continue to exist.

Transgender children deserve to grow up, and transgender adults deserve to grow old. We are all responsible for making that the reality.

For resources and support for LGBTQ+ youth, parents and allies, visit . If you or someone you know is in need of mental health resources and support, please call, text or chat the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or visit  for 24/7 access to free and confidential services.

Follow ˽ýӳ elections columnist Sara Pequeño on X, formerly Twitter,  and Facebook . Follow ˽ýӳ columnist Rex Huppke on X, formerly Twitter,  and Facebook .

Featured Weekly Ad