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Remembering Nex Benedict: Reflecting on Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate

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Willow Delp ’26 reflects on Nex Benedict’s death and the recent rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate across the United States.

Willow Delp ’26 urges members of the Amherst community to challenge homophobia and transphobia. Photo courtesy of PickPik.

If your social media feed looks anything like mine, then the facts of the heartbreaking Nex Benedict case have become as familiar to you as they are to me: that he was a 16-year-old trans student at an Oklahoman high school, a talented student who loved to play video games. That he was bullied by peers for his identity (he used he/him and they/them pronouns), and eventually, the day after a vicious beating by a group of girls in the bathroom, that he died.

When I look at Nex Benedict’s smiling face glowing on my laptop screen, I feel my heart break. I find myself reflecting on my own experiences in middle school and high school. Even in the years following Obergefell v. Hodges, I remember the palpable homophobia and transphobia of my peers. As an LGBTQ+ teenager attending a school where I heard the f-slur with disturbing regularity, my days felt numbered. Even after I switched schools, I remember the transphobic “man-in-a-dress” jokes that marred my ostensibly progressive high school. Spending my formative years in a setting where my identity was never fully affirmed was deeply suffocating. Depressingly, it is a common reality for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Since the brief wave of hope after the securing of gay marriage nationwide in 2015, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has seemingly shifted from the largely social to the horrifyingly structural. It is notable, for instance, that Nex Benedict had to use the girls bathroom, as Oklahoma law mandates that public school students use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate. The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Transgender Studies notes that over 25 percent of respondents in the U.S. Transgender Survey who reported being physically attacked in a bathroom indicated that the assault occurred at a school.

The context in which Benedict was killed is inextricable from his death. In his home state of Oklahoma, a bill called the “Patriotism Not Pride Act,” which would ban government agencies from recognizing Pride Month or displaying LGBTQ+ flags, passed a committee vote the same month (February 2024) that Benedict was killed. In the words of LGBTQ+ activist group Freedom Oklahoma, “Nex’s death is a result of being the target of physical and emotional harm because of who Nex was. This harm is absolutely related to the rhetoric and policies that are commonplace at the Oklahoma Legislature, the State Department of Education, and the Governor’s office, with regard to dehumanizing 2STGNC+ [Two Spirit, Transgender, Gender Nonconforming+] people.” Nex’s death was not the result of a senseless act of violence, but the product of policies that seek to systematically erase queer and trans people from the public sphere. It is the homophobia and transphobia of my adolescence enshrined into law. Until something is changed, the suffering of LGBTQ+ youth will continue unabated.

Reading this story online again and again has been profoundly painful, but I believe that it is necessary. We need to be continually unsettled by hate, instead of allowing it to fester unmitigated. We need to recognize the role that people like Chaya Raichik (the owner of the popular far-right social media account “Libs of TikTok”) play in inciting hatred against queer people, trans people, and allies.

The virality of Nex Benedict’s death coincides with a recent incident at Amherst College where a student shouted an anti-gay slur at a hockey game. As much as Amherst students like to think that we are insulated from anti-LGBTQ+ hatred, this recent display of the normalcy of prejudice indicates that the opposite is true: that the recent rise in homophobia and transphobia has not left our campus unscathed.

Progress does not happen because it is inevitable that things get better; progress happens because a group of people fought and continue to fight tirelessly to improve the world. If we are not cultivating an environment in which homophobia and transphobia are inexcusable, then we are not only passively regressing, but we are actively failing as a community. We are endangering the LGBTQ+ community members who so enrich our lives if we neglect to combat such flagrant displays of bigotry.

May Nex rest in peace. May his memory be a revolution.


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