Thursday, February 22, 2024

Where Hate Leads

From the New York Times:

A 16-year-old student in a small Oklahoma town outside Tulsa died after what the police said was a “physical altercation” in a high school bathroom, drawing outrage from gay and transgender rights groups who said the student was attacked because of their gender identity.

The student, Nex Benedict, who often used the pronouns they and them, told relatives that they did not see themselves as strictly male or female. Under an Oklahoma law passed in 2022, students must use the bathrooms that align with their birth gender.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no arrests had been made in connection with the altercation, which occurred on Feb. 7 in a girls’ bathroom at Owasso High School. The police said the case was still under investigation.

The apparent severity of the altercation, and the death of the student a day later, has focused national attention on how it is being handled by school officials and law enforcement.

The Owasso Police Department said in a statement on Tuesday that no report had been made about the incident until after the injured student was taken to a hospital by relatives later the same day. At that point, a school resource officer went to the hospital, the police said in their statement. The student was discharged and went home, but was rushed back to the hospital by Owasso Fire Department medics the next day, and died there, the police said.

“It is not known at this time if the death is related to the incident at the school or not,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, the police said in a new statement that preliminary information from the medical examiner, based on a complete autopsy, “indicated that the decedent did not die as a result of trauma.” The statement did not suggest a cause of death, citing further pending tests including toxicology.

No other student was deemed to be in need of outside medical attention after the incident, the school said in a statement.

Nex may have been assaulted by students, but the blame rises up to the people who have decided that fear, loathing, and hatred is an acceptable education policy.

The death renewed scrutiny of anti-transgender laws passed in the state and rhetoric by Oklahoma officials, including the state superintendent for education, Ryan Walters, whose agency has been forceful in trying to bar what it calls “radical gender theory” in schools.

“It’s dangerous,” Mr. Walters said in a video made by the agency last year. “It puts our girls in jeopardy.”

The video highlighted a fight in a bathroom the previous year in which, according to a lawsuit, a female student was “severely” injured in a fight with a transgender student.

Advocates for nonbinary and transgender students said that the state’s policy on gender and bathrooms had led to more reports of confrontations in schools.

“That policy and the messaging around it has led to a lot more policing of bathrooms by students,” said Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, which advocates for transgender and gay rights. Students who do not present themselves as obviously male or female find themselves questioned by other students, they said. “There is a sense of, ‘do you belong in here?’”

In addition to the bathroom law, Oklahoma passed a ban on gender-transition care for minors last year. And in 2022, the state was among the first in the nation to explicitly prohibit residents from using gender neutral markers on their birth certificates.

Last month, the state education agency drew outrage from transgender rights groups after it named Chaya Raichik, who runs Libs of TikTok, an account on X that has posted anti-gay and anti-transgender content, to serve on the agency’s Library Media Advisory Committee, which reviews the appropriateness of school library content.

As far as anyone can tell, all Nex wanted to do was be a normal teenager as they saw themself and grow up in peace.  But the state of Oklahoma had other plans.  Put simply, the state labeling Nex as a proponent of a “radical gender theory” painted a target on their back, then stood back.

Nex’s blood is on their hands.