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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Students honor transgender, nonbinary teen Nex Benedict at vigil

Students+at+Thursday%E2%80%99s+vigil+lit+candles+in+honor+of+Nex+Benedict.
Edward Simon Cruz/The Daily Northwestern
Students at Thursday’s vigil lit candles in honor of Nex Benedict.

Content warning: This story contains mentions of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Indigenous violence.

Northwestern students held a vigil at Deering Meadow on Thursday to honor Nex Benedict — a transgender, nonbinary and Indigenous 16-year-old high school student from Owasso, Oklahoma, who was attacked at school Feb. 7 and died a day later.

Several students delivered speeches celebrating Benedict’s life and discussing the history of both anti-Indigenous racism and transphobia. Attendees stood in a circle and held candles during speeches and a subsequent moment of silence.

Benedict — who used both he/him and they/them pronouns — was a straight-A student who enjoyed drawing, reading, playing video games and spending time with his cat Zeus, his mother, Sue Benedict, told The Independent.

A group of NU students began planning the vigil Feb. 23, according to one student involved in the process who requested to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Event planners wanted to provide a safe space for students with similar races or gender identities as Nex Benedict, but also wanted allies to attend the vigil, according to Medill junior Max Sullivan.

“Without allyship, anti-trans bigotry and (anti-Indigenous hate are) only going to continue,” Sullivan said.

In 2022, Oklahoma Gov. J. Kevin Stitt signed a requirement that students in public schools and public charter schools use the bathroom corresponding to their sex assigned at birth into law.

According to the Movement Advancement Project— a non-profit organization that conducts research and data analyses to advocate for greater equality and opportunity — Oklahoma and nine other states have banned transgender K-12 students from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Transgender people are four times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than cisgender people, according to a 2021 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law.

Sue Benedict is a member of the Choctaw Nation, and the Benedict family lives on Cherokee land. The U.S. government displaced both Choctaw and Cherokee people from their ancestral lands in southeastern states in the mid-1800s.

Weinberg junior Athena GoingSnake, whose hometown is an hour away from Owasso, said Nex Benedict’s death affected her because of her sense of community.

“In some way, we are all related to each other,” she said.

According to a Feb. 21 statement from the Owasso Police Department, Owasso High School did not call an ambulance after Nex Benedict was beaten during a Feb. 7 fight with three older girls in a school bathroom. The school recommended he receive further medical examination.

Nex Benedict went to the hospital and was discharged later that day. He was readmitted to the hospital the next day, where he was declared dead.

Sue Benedict said Nex Benedict had been bullied for more than a year before his death.

The police department said autopsy results indicated Benedict did not die from trauma. The department has not provided additional details surrounding his death.

The Benedict family said in a statement released Feb. 21 that the facts they knew surrounding the death were “troubling at best.” The family called on investigators and prosecutors to move “fully, fairly and expediently” and said they are “independently interviewing witnesses and collecting all available evidence.”

Residents of various Oklahoma cities held vigils for Nex Benedict after Feb. 23. Owasso High School students walked out of class Monday to support the local LGBTQ+ community and advocate for stronger anti-bullying policies.

Communication senior Jordan Muhammad said people can interrupt systemic bigotry by calling out harmful language in their daily lives.

“We have the ability to make this something that’s not inevitable,” Muhammad said. “We have the ability to work towards a future where violence against trans people (and) violence against Indigenous people becomes unacceptable.”

Email: [email protected]

X: @edwardsimoncruz

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