Indianz.Com > News > ‘Nex’s death weighs heavily on the hearts of the Choctaw people’: Choctaw Nation mourns loss of young student
Owasso, Oklahoma
A view of Owasso, Oklahoma. Photo: Janice Waltzer
‘Nex’s death weighs heavily on the hearts of the Choctaw people’
Choctaw Nation mourns loss of young student
Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The leader of the Choctaw Nation is joining an outpouring of support for the family of a 16-year-old student whose death is being investigated in Oklahoma.

Nex Benedict passed away on February 8, following a physical altercation at a high school the day prior. Chief Gary Batton confirmed that the young student’s mother is enrolled with the Choctaw Nation.

“The loss of a child is always difficult for a community and a family to accept,” Batton said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Although Nex does not appear to be affiliated with our tribe, their mother, Sue Benedict, is a registered member,” Batton continued.

“Nex’s death weighs heavily on the hearts of the Choctaw people. We pray Nex’s family and their loved ones will find comfort,” Batton concluded.

Nex’s death has directed widespread attention to Oklahoma, where Republican officials have increasingly adopted policies hindering the rights and freedoms of Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ people. Sue Benedict has embraced her child’s gender identity and has vowed to donate funds to other youth experiencing some of the same struggles.

Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ advocates incorrectly identified Nex as being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, whose reservation borders that of the Choctaw Nation. Cherokee Chief Hoskin Jr. expressed support for the Benedict family on Tuesday.

“As Chief, the health and welfare of all children within the Cherokee Nation Reservation is of concern,” Hoskin said in a statement.

Nex attended Owasso High School in Owasso, located on the Cherokee Reservation. Local authorities are investigating the death and have said they will forward the results of the investigation to prosecutors in Tulsa County for potential action.

Hoskin has offered the support of the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service as the investigation continues. The Owasso Police Department indicated in a statement on Tuesday that interviews would be taking place “over the course of the next two weeks.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), a Republican who happens to be a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has not spoken publicly about the death. He has repeatedly derided efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion as discriminatory.

But a senior official with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has weighed in. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre offered a message of support from the administration in a post on social media.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre wrote on her official government account. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

“For many LGBTQI+ students across the country, this may feel personal and deeply painful,” Jean-Pierre continued. “There is always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time. Dial 988 and press 3 to reach a counselor dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people.

According to the 2023 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, a project of Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut, more than half of transgender and gender-expansive youth feel unsafe at school. In particular, nearly a third said they feel unsafe in school restrooms.

“All students, including trans and gender-expansive students like Nex, have the right to feel safe and protected while attending school,” Tori Cooper, the campaign director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement on Wednesday. “That Nex was only 16 years old compounds this tragic injustice and they should have lived to see a fulfilling and authentic life.”

The 2023 study was based on a survey of nearly 3,000 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-18 nationwide, according to the organization. Some 0.6 percent of respondents identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native.

According to Owasso Public Schools, a “physical altercation” took place in a bathroom at the high school on February 7. The Owasso police responded to a local hospital on the same day of the incident.

Police then said they were informed that a “juvenile” was taken back to a hospital on February 8, the same day as Nex’s passing.

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