Calls to oust Oklahoma Superintendent Ryan Walters grow after Nex Benedict's death

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Oklahoma's far-right Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters is facing calls for his removal following the death of Two-Spirit, non-binary teen Nex Benedict.

Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters is facing calls for impeachment and removal over his support for anti-2SLGBTQI+ policies.
Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters is facing calls for impeachment and removal over his support for anti-2SLGBTQI+ policies.  © IMAGO / USA TODAY Network

More than 350 organizations around the country – including Freedom Oklahoma, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLSEN – penned a letter to Oklahoma state legislative leaders calling for consequences for Walters, whom they accuse of creating the environment that led to Benedict's death.

"The undersigned organizations call on the Oklahoma Legislature to immediately remove Ryan Walters from his position as Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction and to begin an investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education to determine what actions and policies have led to a culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked," the letter states.

The organizations list actions taken by Walters which have undermined the safety of students, including passing an emergency rule to prevent a student fearful of bullying from updating his gender on school records and demanding the termination of a school principal who performs drag on weekends.

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They also mention Walters' decision to name Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik to the state education department's Library Media Advisory Committee. Her appointment came after the far-right social media agitator targeted a teacher at Benedict's school in 2022 over her support for 2SLGBTQI+ students and posted a video in 2023 attacking a school librarian who supports 2SLGBTQI+ students.

The latter incident resulted in six days of bomb threats at the school.

Nex Benedict's tragic death

People attend a vigil in memory of Nex Benedict, who died a day after an altercation in a girls' high school bathroom in Owasso, Oklahoma.
People attend a vigil in memory of Nex Benedict, who died a day after an altercation in a girls' high school bathroom in Owasso, Oklahoma.  © REUTERS

Nex Benedict, a non-binary 16-year-old, was attacked by fellow students in a girls bathroom at Owasso High School on February 7.

Body camera footage shows Benedict telling police they did not know the girls, although the attackers had previously made fun of the way the 10th grader and their friends dressed.

Benedict was reportedly talking with their friends in the bathroom when the girls made a disparaging comment about the way they laughed. Benedict responded by pouring water on the girls.

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The girls then assaulted Benedict, causing them to black out.

"They got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground and started beating the s*** out of me," the teen told police officers.

The school did not arrange hospital care for Benedict after the incident. The student's guardian, Sue Benedict, later brought the teen to the hospital and called the police from there.

On February 8, Sue Benedict called 911 saying the teen was "not doing good at all." They were breathing, she said, but their eyes were rolling back.

Benedict died that same day. The cause of death has yet to be revealed.

"Nex’s life demands justice"

Human rights organizations are calling for justice after Nex Benedict's death.
Human rights organizations are calling for justice after Nex Benedict's death.  © REUTERS

Benedict's tragic passing is elevating calls for greater protections for 2SLGBTQI+ students.

"Nex’s life demands justice," the 350-plus groups say in their Wednesday letter. "All students, including all Two-Spirit, gender non-conforming, transgender, and non-binary students like Nex, have the right to feel safe and protected while attending school."

"Indigenous peoples, such as Nex, are subjected to brutal violence of this sort due in part to the continued occupation of their lands, the devaluation of our youth, in addition to being gender and sexual minorities (2SLGBTQI+)," they add.

"We urge you to protect the students of Oklahoma and immediately correct course by impeaching and removing Superintendent Walters and investigating the impact of Walters’ policies and rhetoric on Oklahoma students and schools."

A GoFundMe established on behalf of Benedict and their family has raised over $150,000 to date.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO / USA TODAY Network & REUTERS

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