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Our Mourning for Nex Benedict Calls Us to Action Against Transphobia and Fascism

Nex Benedict, a gender-expansive teen in Oklahoma, died the day after enduring a beating in their high school bathroom.

A photo of Nex Benedict from a GoFundMe page raising money for funeral expenses.

As a nonbinary Native person, I am holding Nex Benedict in my heart this weekend. Nex was a gender-expansive 16-year-old whose mother was a member of the Choctaw Nation. Nex died on February 8, after enduring a beating in their high school bathroom on February 7. Nex’s grandmother and adoptive parent Sue Benedict said of their identity, “Nex did not see themselves as male or female. Nex saw themselves right down the middle. I was still learning about it, Nex was teaching me that.”

Nex had been bullied for their gender identity, and two years ago, a mentor of theirs was targeted by Libs of TikTok, a social media handle used by far right activist Chaya Raichik that has stoked targeted, anti-trans hysteria. In a country where trans children are under attack, Nex lived in Oklahoma, a state that has led the nation in legislative attacks on queer and trans people. Lawmakers in the state have forwarded 54 bills targeting LGBTQ people this year.

The investigation into Nex’s death is ongoing.

All children should be safe and protected, but queer and trans children are under siege in the United States. Their bodies and their schools have been declared battlegrounds by Christo-fascists, who are willing to target teachers, librarians, parents and students in their hateful crusade. In mourning Nex, I think about how much trans and Native youth have stacked against them. From higher rates of depression to a greater potential for homelessness, these young people are struggling to survive their own lives. They also live in the crosshairs of a fascist political party that seeks to exclude them from public life, and prevent the expression or recognition of their true identities.

In the U.S., trans youth have been among the primary scapegoats of a new age Nazism — marked for violence, exclusion and elimination. When I think about the young trans activists I’ve had the honor to work with, I marvel at their courage; to be themselves in such a world, and to defend one another and their futures at such a time. We should all experience their plight and their courage as a call to action.

We should all feel compelled to defend children, in any time or place where they are threatened. All children deserve to live in safety, and to know that their community will protect them. Sadly, queer and trans children are being vilified and portrayed as monsters by fascist actors. How will we act against this?

In my own work, I have supported and worked with the young organizers of Trans Texas Futures — a group of trans high school activists in Texas. I have been deeply impressed by their work and honored to support their projects. However, we know that we must answer a larger political call in these moments as well, and work together to decide what it truly means to fight fascism in our communities and in these times. Trans people, migrants and imprisoned people are on the front lines of human disposability in the U.S. If we intend to beat back the march of fascism, we must fiercely defend these communities. Anything less amounts to an unforgivable surrender.

On Thursday, I saw someone share lyrics from a song by Choctaw artist Samantha Crain in Nex’s memory. The song is called “When We Remain,” and it is written in the Choctaw language. The English translation reads:

When we remain, we will not be like the beautiful bones of a forgotten city. When we remain, we will be the flowers and the trees and the vines that overcome the forgotten city. We have woven ourselves into the cloth of the earth. We have mixed our breath into the expanding sky.

I will be holding those words close this weekend as I think of Nex. I will also be thinking of the words of Nex’s grandmother, who said: “I was so proud of Nex. They were going some place, they were so free.”

May we fight on in their name.

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