Connect with us


Anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed by Oklahoma state senate

SB 2 now heads to the Governor’s desk where, if signed, it would become the third anti-transgender sports ban enacted into law this year



The Oklahoma State Senate passed anti-LGBTQ bills this week.

The Republican-held majority Oklahoma State Senate enacted passage of multiple anti-LGBTQ+ bills this week including a 37 to 7 vote on S B2, which would restrict transgender girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity.

SB 2 now heads to Republican Governor John Stitt’s desk where, if signed, it would become the third anti-transgender sports ban enacted into law this year.

In addition to S B2, the Senate also passed two additional anti-LGBTQ+ bills, SB 9 and SB 1100 that continue to advance through the state legislature. If enacted, these bills would ban materials about LGBTQ people and topics in the classroom and restrict access to gender-affirming documents for nonbinary youth in the state.

“Today, the Oklahoma Senate voted to advance three anti-LGBTQ+ bills regulating school sports, identity documents, and curriculum. While their subjects were different, their target was the same: transgender and nonbinary youth. Lawmakers added these attacks to the agenda behind closed doors in the early hours of the morning, part of a coordinated strategy to use trans youth as political pawns,” said Sam Ames, Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “This legislation offers solutions to problems that simply do not exist in Oklahoma, but the harm it can cause LGBTQ+ youth is very real. We urge the governor to follow the actions of governors in Utah and Indiana and veto the anti-trans sports ban that now heads to his desk. We also urge the Oklahoma House to reject SB 9 and SB 1100 in support of their trans and nonbinary constituents.”

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ+ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.



Medical examine releases final autopsy on Nex Benedict’s death

Okla. high school student died by suicide in February



Nex Benedict (Family photo)

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office released the full report Wednesday on the results of its investigation into the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old transgender teen whose death has become a hot button topic in ongoing national discourse over transphobic and homophobic bullying in public school settings.

Earlier this month the medical examiner’s office released the first page of the report stating that Benedict’s death was caused by an overdose of Benadryl and Prozac, and ruled the death a suicide.

Owasso Police Department Lt. Nick Boatman said in a statement to the media at the time of the release of the initial finding: “From the beginning of this investigation, Owasso Police observed many indications that this death was the result of suicide. However, investigators did not wish to confirm that information without the final results being presented by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners Office.”

The Owasso Police Department released body cam footage from the interview conducted by the Owasso High School resource officer taken at the emergency room, investigating the attack on Benedict by three other female juveniles earlier that day in a school bathroom.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler released a statement last week that said no criminal charges will be filed in the death of the 16-year-old Owasso High School trans student.

In part the district attorney said because the finding by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner precluded the possibility that the death was caused directly from the physical altercation at the school the day prior to the teen’s dying.

According to the district attorney, Benedict had written notes talking about suicide but did not reference the fight or incidents at school. Kunzweiler stated that the notes are personal to Benedict’s family and will not be released.

16-year-old trans teen Nex Benedict being recorded on Owasso Police Department body cam footage at the emergency room after he was attacked in a bathroom at Owasso High School speaking with the Owasso High School resource officer.

The report also detailed injuries sustained in the fight from the day before, including several small cuts and bruises on their face and body. Benedict also had a 4×3 inch bruise on his chest from resuscitation efforts. The medical examiner also found yellowing bruises on Benedict’s arms, legs and torso that were healing before the time of the fight. The medical examiner’s office also found evidence of self-inflicted wounds on the arm.

Several Oklahoma-based LGBTQ organizations responded to the release of the full autopsy report along with national LGBTQ advocacy groups GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and the Rainbow Youth Project.

“As our community continues to grieve and remember Nex, it’s clearer than ever that everyone from Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters to Owasso High School staff members to the Owasso Police Department, Tulsa District Attorney, and unaccredited-since-2009 state medical examiner’s office failed to deliver justice for Nex Benedict and Nex’s loved ones,” said Nicole McAfree, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma.

“A harm doubled by the continued lack of respect for the tribal law enforcement who should be involved in a case that involves the death of an Indigenous person on reservation land. As we approach the end of the Oklahoma legislative session, lawmakers should take the opportunity to send a message of adamant opposition to anti-2SLGBTQ+ legislation and policies; and support for measures that enable more empathy, kindness and compassion, not less. Nex should be alive, and the very least we can do in Nex’s memory is demonstrate our commitment to building a better world that makes it impossible for this heartbreaking tragedy to happen again,” McAfree added.

Oklahoma Pride Alliance President Kylan L. Durant said; “Today’s news is the latest disappointing development in Nex Benedict’s tragic story. The best way to honor Nex’s memory now is by taking tangible steps to secure meaningful policies and platforms that make life better for all LGBTQ and 2STGNC+ youth. All Oklahomans deserve to live in a world that treats us with full dignity and respect, and where we can access spaces that allow us to live as our honest, authentic selves. We will never stop advocating for equality and justice in honor of Nex and too many others who left us too soon.”

The Rainbow Youth Project reported an uptick in crisis calls from Oklahoma since Benedict’s death:

  • 1,097 calls from Oklahoma in February.
  • 824 calls from Oklahoma in March so far.
  • Note that the average for the state is 357 per month.
  • Oklahoma youth reaching out to Rainbow Youth Project reported experiencing anti-LGBTQ bullying and specifically called out Walters:
    • 82 percent reported bullying.
    • 62 percent cited anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from Walters.

More than 350 organizations signed a letter one month ago calling for the Walters’ removal following his long history of leadership failures and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

“Since Nex’s death, the crisis lines at the Rainbow Youth Project continue to increase in calls and outreach from young people who feel discouraged and hopeless. It’s incumbent upon all of us to secure safety and well-being for young people, especially those who are most at risk of being bullied and singled out,” said Christopher Sederburg, leader of the Rainbow Youth Project’s Transgender Action Committee. “It’s hard enough to be a young person in the world today without worrying about doing something as simple as attending school safely. Nex’s death is a tremendous loss and we must do everything in our power to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future. Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters and the Oklahoma Department of Education must enact change and do right by all students.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement released after the report was made public said:

“This report cannot be seen as a conclusion of the investigation into the death of a teenager who should still be here today. Oklahoma’s supposed leaders must still provide answers to the public about the state-sponsored bullying by legislation, the inadequate response to violence in a school bathroom, and all the failures to keep Nex safe that continue to endanger LGBTQ and 2STGNC+ people in Oklahoma. GLAAD continues to call for an independent investigation to resolve the systemic failures that led to Nex’s death. Our hearts remain with Nex’s family, with Oklahoma’s incredible 2STGNC+ and equality advocates and all LGBTQ youth who deserve to grow up in peace and safety.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, released the following statement: 

“The full report does little to fill in the gaps in information about that day or the more than a year of bullying and harassment that led up to it. It does not answer the questions of so many in Oklahoma and across the country. We continue to support the calls from Nex’s family for an independent investigation.

Young people in Oklahoma and across the country deserve to be safe and respected in school. This includes young people who may dress differently, speak differently, or identify differently from you. What’s clear from Nex’s death, and from what we’ve heard from so many students and parents in Owasso and across the state, is that this is not the case. Instead, we have seen the very adults who should be working to protect Oklahoma’s kids actively foster the hostile environment that makes students unsafe.

The release of today’s report does not change the fact that LGTBQ+ students in Oklahoma are not safe at school. And it does not change our continued calls for justice and accountability.  We reiterate our call for a full and complete investigation into the district, state Supt. Ryan Walters, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and into their response after Nex was attacked.”

On March 1, the U.S. Department of Education informed Robinson that the department will open an investigation in response to HRC’s letter regarding Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to the tragic death of Benedict.

This investigation was triggered by a formal complaint made last week by Robinson, who wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and asked his department to use the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future and to help hold accountable those responsible for Benedict’s tragic death.

Rainbow Youth Project USA Executive Director Lance Preston echoed his fellow non-profit CEOs at GLAAD and HRC, telling the Washington Blade:

“In a unified effort with Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, Rainbow Youth Project USA is calling for an independent autopsy to ensure a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the youth’s death. 

Rainbow Youth Project USA, demands that educational institutions in Oklahoma and across the country take immediate action to address the pervasive issue of bullying and harassment faced by LGBTQ+ students. 

Statistics reveal that 58 percent of LGBTQ+ youth in Oklahoma feel unsafe at school, painting a grim picture of the challenges these individuals face on a daily basis. “Schools must be safe and inclusive environments for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is unacceptable that a significant number of LGBTQ+ students are experiencing bullying and harassment.”

Rainbow Youth Project USA, based on recent data, received 1,097 crisis calls from Oklahoma in February alone. Nearly 86 percent of these callers reported instances of being bullied within the state’s schools, highlighting the urgent need for improved support and protection for LGBTQ youth. 

In a conversation with the Blade on Wednesday, investigative journalist T.J. Payne reflected on the report:

“I can’t help but feel a sickness around all of it. As a trans person, reading a trans child’s autopsy is really fucked. Referring to their various insides as normal, intact, not usual. If only we described trans people the same way externally. Just like everybody else in the world trying to survive.”

Continue Reading


Okla. DA will not file charges in Nex Benedict case

Student died by suicide last month after school fight



Nex Benedict (Family photo)

Tulsa County (Okla.) District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler released a statement Thursday that said no criminal charges will be filed in the death of 16-year-old transgender Owasso High School student Nex Benedict last month.

According to Kunzweiler’s statement, based on all the evidence presented, he acknowledged the finding by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner that Benedict died from an overdose of Benadryl and Prozac and the cause was suicide. According to the district attorney, Benedict had written notes talking about suicide but did not reference the fight or incidents at school.

Kunzweiler stated that the notes are personal to Benedict’s family and will not be released.

Addressing the fight in one of the school’s restrooms the day with a group of three other students prior to Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which had led to the hospitalization and the ongoing controversy Kunzweiler noted:  

“Regarding the fight which took place at the Owasso High School, the combatants were all under 18 years of age. Consequently, if charges were justified, those charges would be handled as a delinquent child cause of action in a juvenile court of law. Based upon the investigation of the Owasso Police Department, I am in agreement with their assessment that the filing of juvenile charges is not warranted,” he said adding: 

“From all of the evidence gathered, this fight was an instance of mutual combat. I do not have a reasonable belief that the state of Oklahoma could sustain its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt if charges were presented for prosecution.” 

In his statement, Kunzweiler said that the investigation stated that the incident was less than 60 seconds long and started after some girls made comments about how Benedict laughed and Benedict poured water on the girls. 

Kunzweiler’s further noted that the students were serving in-house suspension and didn’t know each other before that week, but, had been antagonizing each other, although no student reported it to teachers or staff.

The district attorney however noted that the family still has civil options open to them, writing:

“Finally, whether or not individuals may choose to seek legal counsel for remedies in the civil realm of the court system is a decision best left to them. The scope of those inquiries are not as limited as the question of criminal/delinquent conduct which I was asked to address in this case.”

Nex Benedict being interviewed by the school resource officer shown on this body cam screenshot in the emergency room on Feb. 7, 2024, a day before Benedict died from what the Tulsa office of Oklahoma State Medical Examiner has ruled a suicide.

Lance Preston, the founder and executive director of the Rainbow Youth Project, a national organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth, in an emailed statement to the Los Angeles Blade wrote:

“In a controversial move that has sparked outrage within the LGBTQ+ community, the Tulsa County District Attorney has declined to press charges against the students involved in the assault on Nex Benedict at Owasso High School. This decision has sent a chilling message that LGBTQ+ students may not be afforded the same level of protection and justice as their peers.

Following the announcement, the Rainbow Youth Project has been flooded with calls to its crisis center from concerned young people and outraged parents. The decision not to pursue charges against the perpetrators has created a sense of fear and insecurity among LGBTQ students and their families, who now question their safety in Oklahoma schools.

The decision not to hold the assailants accountable has raised serious concerns about the prioritization of LGBTQ safety in Oklahoma’s educational institutions. State Sen. Tom Woods’ derogatory remarks towards LGBTQ individuals only serve to compound the hostile environment faced by these marginalized students.

Rainbow Youth Project has vowed to continue advocating for the safety and rights of LGBTQ youth in the wake of this troubling development.

“It is essential that we stand together to protect and support LGBTQ+ students in our schools. No young person should have to fear for their safety simply because of who they are,” stated Rainbow Youth Project USA Executive Director Lance Preston. “As the community grapples with the implications of the district attorney’s decision, the need for increased awareness and support for LGBTQ students has never been more critical. Organizations like Rainbow Youth Project play a crucial role in providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth and advocating for a more inclusive and accepting society.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis told the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Time and time again, leaders in Oklahoma have showed that they don’t value Nex’s life, or the lives of other Indigenous and 2STGNC students. Everyone from Superintendent Walters and Owasso High School to the unaccredited-since-2009 state Medical Examiner’s Office, the district attorney and Owasso Police Department have failed Nex Benedict and failed us all. It is critical that an independent investigation is completed and the truth about what happened to Nex, and what all marginalized youth in Oklahoma schools endure, is brought to light. We will never stop seeking justice for Nex and we will never stop holding leaders accountable to serving their communities fairly and with compassion.”

Reaction also came from Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson who stated:

“Nex was failed by their school, and failed by every elected official who allowed a culture of bullying and harassment to grow unchecked. We reiterate our call for a full and complete investigation into the district, into state superintendent Walters and the OSDE, and into the response after Nex was attacked. We won’t stop until there is justice for Nex and for all kids — in Oklahoma and beyond.”

Continue Reading


Medical examiner rules Nex Benedict died by suicide

Okla. teenager passed away last month after a fight with classmates



Nex Benedict (Family photo)

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has released part of the results of the investigation into the Feb. 8 death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old transgender teenager who had experienced bullying at his high school culminating in an assault that made national headlines.

KOTV/KQCW in Tulsa reported Wednesday afternoon that the medical examiner’s report disclosed that Benedict died by suicide and did not die as a direct result of trauma from the physical altercation at Owasso High School in Owasso, Okla., on Feb. 7, 2024. 

Page one of the report states that Benedict’s death was caused by an overdose of Benadryl and Prozac. The full medical examiner’s report will be released on March 27, KOTV/KQCW also reported.

“From the beginning of this investigation, Owasso Police observed many indications that this death was the result of suicide,” Owasso Police Department Lt. Nick Boatman said in a statement to the media. “However, investigators did not wish to confirm that information without the final results being presented by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners Office.”

Boatman would not confirm to media outlets whether or not investigators found a suicide note from Benedict.

After a year of being bullied over his trans identity, Benedict was involved in a fight in a bathroom in early February in which three girls allegedly beat him. Police and media reports stated that Nex’s head was “banged into the floor.” Nex’s mother substantiated the reports in an interview with British media outlet the Independent. The school reportedly did not call an ambulance for the teen and he was taken to hospital by his mother and was discharged from the hospital later that evening. 

“As an organization dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth, we are truly saddened by the loss of Nex Benedict,” Lance Preston, executive director at Rainbow Youth Project USA, told the Washington Blade. “It is heartbreaking to see a young life cut short due to the harmful effects of bullying. Our hearts go out to Nex’s family and loved ones during this difficult time.” 

“It is crucial for schools to recognize the profound impact of bullying on the mental health and well-being of students,” Preston noted. “We call on educators, administrators and policymakers to prioritize the implementation of anti-bullying measures and support systems that create a culture of acceptance and respect within educational institutions.” 

“The loss of Nex Benedict serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of unchecked harassment, bullying and discrimination across the nation,” Preston added.

Owasso police released body camera footage, school security camera footage and 911 calls from their investigation into the incident.

The public response to Benedict’s death has been overwhelming, with thousands of messages to police, the school, and members of the media, KOTV/KQCW noted.

In a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said: ”This news is crushing and must be a wake up call to our country: Enough is enough. The political targeting of transgender people is deadly and must be stopped. It is past time to hold the public officials and leaders who are promulgating hatred and lies about vulnerable young people and their families fully accountable for the terrible harm they are causing.”

In an emailed statement, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said:

“There is nothing in this one page document to explain why the medical examiner checked a box. Media must have learned by now that they need to continue to question what they get from law enforcement and government entities in Oklahoma that have so far failed to protect vulnerable students and responsibly provide any information that is critical for student safety. Nex Benedict’s family and the entire state of Oklahoma deserve far more answers and accountability from those charged with keeping Nex and all youth safe. 

What remains true: Nex Benedict and all LGBTQ and two spirit, transgender and gender nonconforming (2STGNC+) youth deserve a world that fights for them to be themselves, to be free from state-sponsored bullying and discrimination. All media reporting on Nex’s death and the behavior of public officials before, during and after Nex’s death, must continue to demand accountability from state leaders about how they are working to protect all youth from harm and when they will stop their relentless attacks proven to cause harm. 

Our hearts remain with Nex’s family and all who grieve this horrific loss and the unacceptable violence that preceded it. It remains imperative that school environments reject bullying in all its forms.”

Kelley Robinson, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade:

“As parents, we send our kids to school expecting that they will be safe and cared for. Nex was failed by so many and should still be here today. We hold their family in our hearts as they grapple with the devastating reality that their beloved child, a teen with a bright future, is no longer making this world a brighter place. Nex died one day after being beaten unconscious in a school bathroom, and following more than a year of bullying and harassment at school. This is heartbreaking. And we have heard from so many parents and students that this culture of bullying and harassment is both pervasive at Owasso Public Schools and that many within the school had actual knowledge that it was occurring and took no steps to fix it. We reiterate our call for a full and complete investigation. Young people in Oklahoma and across the country deserve to be safe and respected at school.”

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade