Probe Potential Role of Discrimination in Non-Binary Student’s Death

Target: Miguel Cardona, Secretary of U.S. Department of Education

Goal: Investigate Oklahoma education department for anti-LGBTQ+ policies that may have contributed to student’s death.

The death of an Oklahoma non-binary student following a school altercation has shone a renewed spotlight on state politicians’ seeming crusade against LGBTQ+ rights. Nex Benedict, a student at Owasso High School, apparently got into a fight with older students in a school bathroom. The teen was allegedly beaten by the other group and reported the incident to police, whose interaction with Benedict seemingly discouraged the student from pressing charges. A day later, Nex was dead.

Although the cause of death has yet to be revealed, advocates worry that the alleged altercation—as well as reported failures by the school to summon an ambulance after the incident—could have played a key role. Benedict’s grandmother and guardian also claimed that her grandchild was the victim of persistent bullying and that school officials did nothing to address the ongoing problem. The U.S. Department of Education has since announced a federal investigation into the school’s actions leading up to and following Benedict’s altercation.

State advocacy groups want a broader investigation, however, that would include Oklahoma’s own education department. The head of the agency is an outspoken critic of LGBTQ+ rights. One of the bills passed into state law includes a so-called bathroom bill for K-12 students that singles out transgender and other non-gender-conforming students. Oklahoma is amongst the most frequent proponents of the 500-plus anti-LGBTQ+ bills that passed through state legislatures in just one year’s time. Following Nex’s death, an Oklahoma politician renewed his vow to keep the “filth” out of his state.

Sign the petition below to demand this state face up to its creation of a hostile learning environment and its reported failures to protect every young student.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Secretary Cardona,

While local investigations will determine if any criminal culpability exists in the death of Oklahoma teen Nex Benedict, this youth’s passing brings to the forefront larger issues about the responsibility of education leaders to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students. In the days leading up to their death, Nex had reportedly complained of pervasive bullying that allegedly included verbal and physical intimidation. The troubling apparent lack of action by Owasso High School before and after a reported physical altercation is currently being investigated by this department.

But should only this one institution shoulder the burden of perceived inaction and policy failures? Owasso is a reflection of a statewide (and to a large extent a nationwide) politicization of education that too often targets the most vulnerable students. Oklahoma’s education department chief, Ryan Walters, has seemingly made the targeting of LGBTQ+ students a central tenet of his platform. He—and the entire department he represents—should be held equally accountable. The Human Rights Campaign has urged you to include in your investigation the Oklahoma Department of Education.

Please honor this plea and send a message to every state that this nation’s future will no longer be used as political punching bags. Fight for the lives and the quality of life of every student.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Ramon Perucho


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