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May
20
2024
Antioch College

On Sunday, March 3, Antioch students held a vigil at the old student union building for Nex Benedict, a trans 16-year-old from Oklahoma who died in February after being bullied and beaten by classmates. (Photo by Ely Lombardi)

Antioch vigil honors Nex Benedict

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By Ely Lombardi

Nearly a quarter of Antioch College’s student body gathered alongside Antioch President Jane Fernandes on the steps of the old student union building Sunday, March 3, to attend a candlelight vigil in honor of Nex Benedict.

Benedict, a transgender 16-year-old, died this past February after being beaten by a group of their classmates inside the women’s restroom of their Owasso, Oklahoma, high school. According to a summary of their autopsy report, which was released March 13, Benedict was determined to have died by suicide.

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But due to the severity of the attack, which resulted in Benedict’s hospitalization the day before they were pronounced dead, many — including the family of the deceased and prominent LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like GLAAD — have cast doubts on the medical examiner’s report. The full, unedited report was expected to be made available to the public Tuesday, March 26, but as of the time of writing, has yet to be released.

The on-campus event was organized largely to allow Antioch students a space to collectively grieve, but also served to raise awareness of the rise in anti-LGBTQ violence occurring nationally. According to the annual crime report released by the FBI in October 2023, there was a sharp uptick in hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ+ community in 2022, with reports of crimes based on sexual orientation increasing by 13.8%, and reports where gender identity was given as the primary motivation going up by a staggering 32.9%, when compared to the previous year.

Though the Antioch vigil was focused on Benedict, Colin Jennings — a queer Black man fatally shot by Columbus police officers on Feb. 22 — was also mentioned by organizers. Those who spoke at the event made note of the ways in which LGBTQ+ people of color are at higher risk of violence, with both of these instances being examples of the deaths of Black or Indigenous queer people; Benedict’s mother is a tribal citizen of the Choctaw Nation.      

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+-focused civil rights organization, the state Legislature of Oklahoma has proposed over 50 anti-LBGTQ+ bills so far this year. Oklahoma has previously banned minors from accessing gender-affirming healthcare — a piece of legislation similar to the one passed by the Ohio Senate in January — and has laws on the books mandating that students use restroom facilities in alignment with their “biological sex.” House Bill 183, a piece of legislation currently in committee in the Ohio House of Representatives, would strive to bring a similar mandate to Ohio.

Though the death of Nex Benedict is still under investigation by police, many advocates for transgender rights believe that laws like these, which limit the freedoms of transgender youth, led, in-part, to the physical altercation that Benedict’s family believes resulted in their death.

*Ely Lombardi is a student at Antioch College and the editor for The Antioch Record.

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