Nex Benedict: A Continued Legacy of Systemic Violence Against Two Spirit Relatives

A Continued Legacy of Systemic Violence Against Two Spirit Relatives

On February 8, 2024, a 16-year-old Indigenous (Choctaw) non-binary and Two Spirit teen, Nex Benedict, died tragically after experiencing a hate-motivated violent attack the day prior. The attack occurred on February 7, 2024, in an Owasso High School bathroom involving Nex and three older girls. Allegedly, Nex was knocked to the floor and hit their head, according to a February 22, 2024 story by The Independent. 

According to the story, the bullying began at the beginning of the 2023 school year, a few months after Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill that required public school students to use bathrooms that matched the sex listed on their birth certificates. Sue Benedict, Nex’s grandmother and adopted parent, said she was called to the school the day after the attack to find Nex badly beaten with bruises over their face and eyes and scratches on the back of their head.

However, the school did not seek medical help for Nex. Ms. Benedict took Nex to the Bailey Medical Center for treatment, but after being released, Nex collapsed in the family living room the following afternoon. Ms. Benedict called an ambulance and medics found Nex had stopped breathing. Nex was transported to the St. Francis Pediatric ER and was later declared dead.

Propaganda, and legislation drive and increase violence and abuses

 The lead up to Nex’s tragic death is not isolated from the ongoing systemic attack on Two Spirit, trans, and queer youth in this country including in Oklahoma where Nex was a student. Last year, the Oklahoma Department of Education issued a video PSA calling trans kids a threat to schools. This hate-driven, discriminatory based propaganda is seen nationwide, with an overwhelming onslaught of over 400 anti-LGBTQ bills circulating across the country. Much of this discriminatory legislation specifically targets trans kids, preventing them from equal access to necessary health care, a safe environment in public schools, and infringing overall on their human rights. 

This right-wing fueled national campaign to attack 2SLGBTQIA+ youth has real life implications at the local level. Community members in the Owasso school district claimed Nex’s death is not the only example of attacks against queer relatives, in fact, there are claims of reports made to the administration of Owasso public schools about other queer students experiencing discrimination. In addition, there are additional claims that a queer teacher at Owasso public schools was being targeted on social media by the Libs of Tik Tok account, whose platform often features hostile and derogatory commentary about LGBTQ; the Libs of Tik Tok account is managed by Chaya Raichik who was also appointed by Oklahoma superintendent to the Oklahoma library advisory committee where it is their role to provide guidance and recommendations to the Oklahoma State Board of Education regarding the adherence of books and materials available within Oklahoma public schools, according to USA Today. A week after her appointment Nex died.

Many local community members also claim that the police and school district are working to cover up Nex’s death, avoiding responsibility and accountability for their role in Benedict’s sudden demise. This comes as no surprise to those community members who also indicated there is a long history between local police helping school districts cover up past incidents like sexual assault and battery. 

It is quite incomprehensible and unnerving to believe there is no connection between Nex’s death, the violent attacks in the bathroom, and the lack of action to ensure Benedict’s safety and well-being before and after the attack within the Owasso school district. 

The Indigenous Environmental Network’s Lead on Indigenous Feminisms, Simone Senogles (Red Lake Anishinaabe) reminds us, “Indigenous Feminist thought means protecting and uplifting the voices and bodies of Two Spirit people; our/their presence and safety are paramount; our/their lives are sacred and must be protected. Legislative entities in the United States and around the world are criminalizing the bodies and identities of Two Spirit people, resulting in escalating violence and murder. We demand that the State of Oklahoma, Owasso School District, Owasso High School and those responsible for the murder of Nex Benedict be held accountable.”

Since the arrival of settlers on Turtle Island, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and especially our Two Spirit and queer relatives have been under attack, both physically and systemically. The attack on these relatives is also fueled by the same violence and attacks against our Mother Earth. 

Traditionally and in present-day, Two Spirit people hold esteemed ceremonial roles, acting as mediators, healers, and spiritual leaders. Their understanding of both masculine and feminine energies is seen as a gift, contributing to the holistic well-being of their community. The sacredness associated with Two Spirit identity reflects a profound respect for diversity and a recognition of the spiritual interconnectedness of all aspects of life.

Honored and cherished…

In many Indigenous cultures, Two Spirit people are considered sacred because their gender identity embodies a harmonious balance of both masculine and feminine qualities. Many are also acknowledged in their role to give Indigenous names to children and youth. The term “Two Spirit” itself reflects a spiritual significance, acknowledging the duality and unique perspectives these individuals bring to their communities.

The fluidity of Two Spirit relatives’ represents a duality that colonial structures and thinking cannot understand nor accept, and is a threat to colonial power and the dominant acts perpetuated in systems like patriarchy and white supremacy. 

The colonial understanding of Two Spirit and gender and sexuality is nothing short of a monolithic and compartmentalized point of view, limiting its understanding to a single label. This is merely another reflection of white supremacy culture which reinforces a binary mentality, by placing “either/or” thinking at the root of colonial understandings. 

With Indigenous interpretations and understandings, particularly with Two Spirit people, we can begin to understand how Indigenous knowledge systems maintain duality and fluidity at the center of human existence, and such duality and fluidity is reflected throughout the natural world. 

It is undeniable that patriarchy and colonialism are threatened by Two Spirit, trans, and queer existence because their natural way of being challenges these unsustainable systems and practices that are fueled and dominated by hetero-normative cis, and hegemonic ways of being.

Along with a colonial misinterpretation of Two Spirit relatives and Indigenous ways of being and knowing, colonialism further dehumanizes all Indigenous Peoples, and particularly Two Spirit individuals. This dehumanization is perpetuated throughout mainstream society- from mascots, to various symbols and imagery in pop culture- Indigenous Peoples are devalued and seen as less than; pairing this with diverse gender and sexual identities, unfortunately  results in violence and hate-based attacks like what Nex Benedict experienced. 

The undeniable connection between the violence against Mother Earth and violence against Two Spirit relatives and the LGBTQIA+ community is not coincidental. Along with the dehumanization of Two Spirit individuals, that same perspective is perpetuated against our lands, territories and waters, making room for extraction and the commodification of the sacred. The disproportionate levels of violence against Two Spirit people can be attributed to a complex interplay of factors, including a colonial history of domination and exploitation, stigma, and systemic discrimination.

Colonialism imposes western gender norms, eroding traditional acceptance of diverse gender identities in both mainstream society and Indigenous cultures, coupled with ongoing discrimination in a colonial state such as the U.S, further contributes to the disproportionate rates of violence against Two Spirit individuals.

Colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy are the lead drivers behind an extractive economy, environmental degradation, contamination, and exploitation, and we see this same targeted violence and discrimination against marginalized groups.

Exploitative practices harm both Mother Earth and those who are already vulnerable due to systemic injustices. Addressing these issues requires recognizing the interconnectedness of social, racial, economic, and environmental justice, and understanding the interconnectedness in these issues is crucial for fostering justice and equality amongst all living beings.

IEN’s Indigenous Feminisms Organizer, Claire Charlo (Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes) emphasizes the importance of protecting Two Spirit youth and their full entitlement to their human rights, “All 2SLGBTQIA+ and non-binary youth deserve to learn in a safe environment. The colonial violence perpetrated against generations of Indigenous communities in the form of boarding and residential schools is re-emerging through hate based legislation that threaten the safety of youth. The Indigenous Environmental Network extends our deepest love to the family, friends, and Two Spirit community that are grieving this tragic death. May we come together in community to support each other in a good way.”

How you can help stop the propaganda, hate, abuses, and deaths:

The Youth Well-Being program at HRC Foundation compilation of direct service resources for LGBTQ+ youth and families.

Keep up with anti-trans legislation and know what’s happening in your state with the ACLU and Trans Legislation Tracker.

Write, call, and email your local, state and federal representatives demanding that they vote against anti-LGBTQ+ bills.



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