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How Tragedy Impacts the LGBTQ+ Community: A Study on Nex Benedict

Context on Nex Benedict


On February 8th, in Owasso High School in Oklahoma, a 16-year-old non-binary student - Nex Benedict - died one single day after a fight broke out in the school bathroom.


Nex had reportedly been the victim of incessant school bullying leading up to the fight, which had been going on for a year. In the fight against three older girls, Nex was left with bruises and scratches on their face and head, even reportedly smashing their head into the bathroom floor. The school did not call an ambulance or the police, according to Nex's grandmother who transported them there later that day.


The next day, Nex collapsed in their home and was again transported to the hospital, where they were declared dead.


Over a month later, the police department released Nex's autopsy report, which claimed that they died from suicide, and not from their injuries in the fight.


For a while, it had seemed that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community had been on the downturn coming to the end of the 2010s and into the 2020s. However, in recent years, society has almost seemed to regress in their views. Hateful rhetoric, especially against the transgender community, has become mainstream in right-wing circles, and this has been translating to real world policy changes impacting the lives of LGBTQ+ people all over the world.



Survey


The What Do The Gays Think? team sent out a survey - opened on February 29th, 2024 and closed March 6th, 2024 - that asked members of the LGBTQ+ community to provide their opinions on the events surrounding Nex Benedict's death. We gathered 196 responses, 137 of which came from our online survey panel and 59 supplemental responses from SurveyMonkey's targeted panel. For additional context, 86 of the respondents (44% of the total) identified as transgender.


More demographic information on the respondents can be found in Appendix A. Individual responses are being kept private and results are only shared in aggregate.



How the Media Deals with LGBTQ Violence


The mainstream media's portrayal of Nex's death was one of the more widely criticized aspects of the event from both sides of the aisle, which also opens up broader questions on how LGBTQ+ stories are portrayed.


In our survey, 86% of respondents (all members of the LGBTQ+ community) said they were at least somewhat aware of the events surrounding the death of Nex Benedict. 68% of respondents said that first heard about this event on social media. Only 12% said they first heard about it on Local or National News.


Bar graph breaking down respondent awareness of the events surrounding the death of Nex Benedict

Bar graph breaking down how respondents first learned about Nex Benedict's death

Bear in mind that social media was a primary way of recruiting members of our panel, so our result here may be biased in that regard, but would this story have gotten the same national attention and outcry as it did if social media weren't a factor?


A lot of the traction this story gained started on Tiktok, and there are active measures moving through the United States Congress to force ByteDance (Tiktok's parent company) to divest the platform, which many activists say would lead to an outright ban.


In our survey, when prompted with the statement "The mainstream media is doing a good job of covering these events", only 19% of respondents agreed, while 61% disagreed.


Bar graph breaking how many respondents agreed that the mainstream media did a good job covering the events of Nex Benedict's death

When discussing the results of this survey on our podcast (hosted by Jackie, Matt, & Pat), Pat says, "There is no mainstream, queer-centric news outlet. They're going to get most of their news from social media and their algorithms. Without social media, this story would've been dead."


"There is, in a sad way, a lot of news space that is reserved for young people's deaths, especially in the school age," Jackie explains. "I think it would have been covered [by the mainstream media], but with not the same amount of traction. How many of them would have covered that Nex was non-binary? It could have been overwritten."


"I don't think the mainstream media does a good job covering queer stories," Matt agrees. "Social media does that a lot better."


Banning platforms such as Tiktok also silences LGBTQ+ stories, especially if the mainstream media does not do a good job of covering these types of events.


But this is not the only vein in which the community is feeling silenced. When prompted with the statement "The police investigating these events are doing a good job", only 12% agreed, while 61% disagreed.


Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that the police investigating Nex Benedict's death did a good job

What does this tell us about the way the LGBTQ+ community feels about the justice systems that are in place? The systems that are supposed to helping us? How do we trust that what they're saying is true?


"Any minority group probably has an inherent distrust of police institutions," Pat says in our podcast. "It's always good to investigate things thoroughly, as the cops should. But there is a history in this country of that not always happening. I didn't immediately consider a cover-up [regarding the autopsy report], but it's definitely suspicious. Always good to get a second opinion."


"At this point I'm less suspect of the police covering something up," Jackie replies, "than I am that the school needs to be held accountable and subject to a lot more scrutiny."



Taking Accountability


The School Administration


When tragedies like these occur, a lot of people want to jump in and assign blame. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We all want closure. We all want the right people to be held accountable for their actions.


91% of respondents agreed that Schools are not doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ students, and 87% agreed that The school administration should be held accountable for Nex's death.



Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that schools are not doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ students
Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that Owasso High School administration should be held accountable for Nex's death


It is clear that schools need to be doing more, but what should they be doing?


In our recent podcast episode, Pat says, "No school is doing a good job of teaching about LGBTQ+ people. There needs to be a huge overhaul of the school system. It's such a huge task, but we need to start chipping away at it. Teaching more queer content - sex ed, history, popular media, anything."


"But it starts at home," Pat continues. "These children hear what their parents are saying. They're kids, they don't know any better. So they just parrot everything they hear from their parents, and they don't understand the gravity of their actions. The parents need to get their act together."


"Schools are so inundated with responsibilities," Jackie says. "Funding is a nightmare. Teachers are underpaid. And yet they're expected to 'raise' these children, but they can only do so much. These schools could do so much better with proper funding."


The Biden Administration


76% of respondents said that The Biden administration is not doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ people.


Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that the Biden administration is not doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ people

76% is a large portion of the LGBTQ+ community feeling like our elected politicians, the people who are supposed to be fighting for us (The Democrats), aren't doing enough. And we're in an election year in the United States. Biden is underwater in the polls. A lot people are angry at the administration in a lot of ways, including in his response to the Israel/Palestine conflict. If Biden wants to stand a chance against Trump, he needs the support of the LGBTQ+ community, which is historically a left-leaning group and can be a strong voting bloc.


So what needs to change? What actions does the Biden administration need to take to help persuade members of the LGBTQ+ community that he is fighting for them?


In our podcast episode, Pat questions why the Biden administration hasn't taken more executive action to protect the community.


"Why can't he?" Pat asks. "Why can't he just be like 'I'm writing an executive order. No more trans bathroom ban bills.'? Sure, there's a precedent of refraining from using too many executive orders to not come off as a dictator. But then we can do executive orders for bombs and war?"


"What about an executive order to erase student debt?" Jackie says in response. "It's frustrating to live in a political landscape that is hamstringed by itself. And it's frustrating to feel like, as a minority community, that we do not have a hand on the wheel. We are reaching for it, but we are not allowed to have a hand on the wheel."


Who Else Needs to be Held Accountable?


89% of respondents agreed that the students who fought Nex in the bathroom should be held accountable for their death.


Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that the students who fought Nex Benedict in the bathroom should be held accountable for Nex's death

In the time since we ran this survey, the police released an autopsy report that found that Nex died by suicide. There are skepticisms from the community, as described above, about how the police have handled this. But taking this autopsy at face value, it calls into question if the students can truly be held accountable for Nex's death.


Pat, in our recent podcast episode, says that the students should at least be held accountable for the physical violence and the bullying, but questions if we should blame them for the death itself.


"I don't think that being 'blamed for the death' and 'taking accountability' need to go hand in hand," Jackie responds. "They need to be held accountable on some level. Some sort of serious consequences. I'm not even suggesting jail, but maybe reform-type programs."


"If it wasn't for their behavior, do we think that Nex would be alive?" Pat prompts.


"I do," Jackie says. "There's only so much bullying that one person can tolerate and withstand."


"If the death was a suicide," Matt says, "the students were definitely the catalyst."


Continuing on the line of accountability, this same school (Owasso High School) was targeted in the past by the controversial right-wing account LibsOfTiktok, owned by Chaya Raichik. Chaya is well known for singling out queer people, including queer teachers, and putting them on blast on social media, claiming that they are "groomers". In 2022, Chaya targeted a queer teacher from Owasso High School, leading to harassment and eventual resignation. His crime? Saying that he supports LGBTQ+ kids.


Oklahoma went on to implement a transgender bathroom ban, forcing LGBTQ+ students to use the bathroom of their assigned sex at birth.


84% of respondents said that Oklahoma's transgender bathroom policy played a role in Nex's death. 62% of respondents said that Chaya Raichik should be held accountable for Nex's death.


Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that Oklahoma's transgender bathroom policy play a role in Nex Benedict's death
Bar graph breaking down how many respondents agreed that Chaya Raichik or LibsOfTiktok should be held accountable for Nex's death

"I think the transgender bathroom policy is way more associated," Pat explains our recent podcast. "When it comes to LibsOfTiktok, you're getting to the like 3rd or 4th degree away from the situation. She's horrible and does cause damage, but I don't know if we can assign blame to her. The trans bathroom ban is tangible evidence that Oklahoma does not like trans people. Young people internalize that, and then if they see a trans person in a bathroom, they aren't gonna like them too."


"Legally it would be a stretch," Jackie says (re: LibsOfTiktok), "but it's all part of the same sphere of culture in Owasso High School."


"Even if it's a 3rd or 4th degree separation," Matt says, "Chaya did make things worse for queer people in that school by getting the queer teacher ousted, which definitely contributed to a poorer culture on how queer people are perceived. But is the throughline strong enough to hold her accountable? I'm not sure."


Chaya Raichik has been appointed to Oklahoma's library advisory board despite not living in Oklahoma and having no prior experience in education, which only further calls into the question the state's actions to target transgender people.



How Tragedies Impact the LGBTQ+ Community


Taking a step back, the What Do The Gays Think? team really want to try to gauge how the community is impacted when events like this happen. These types of tragedies are not uncommon. Think back to the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.


When prompted with this statement - "Nex's death has negatively impacted by mental health" - 58% said they agreed. That's more than half of the members of community saying that this event negatively affected them. When focusing just on transgender respondents, then 72% said they agreed.


Bar graph breaking down how many respondents said that the death of Nex Benedict impacted their mental health
All respondents
Bar graph breaking down how many transgender respondents said that Nex Benedict's death negatively impacted their mental health
Filtered on transgender respondents

When Jackie, who identifies as non-binary, was asked this question on the podcast, they responded, "I think it did [negatively impact my mental health]. I thought about Nex's death and the scenarios in which similar things could have happened to me. Anything can happen nowadays, like when we go out to LGBTQ+ clubs. There's an increased fear. And it's also sad to know that a young person's life was lost before they could be free to be themselves."


"It didn't negatively impact my mental health," Pat, who identifies as cisgender, responds. "I can try to be empathetic but I've never been in a situation like that before so it can only go so far. But also maybe I'm de-sensitized. Unfortunately, with everything going on in my life personally, I can only devote so much mental space to the world at large, especially with all the depressing events."


"One's own emotional bandwidth is important," Jackie responds to Pat. "Ultimately if we are going to try to enact change, we all need to be in a good mental space to do so."


"A lot of people have become de-sensitized," Matt, who also identifies as cisgender, continues, "especially with gun violence in the United States. We hear about a mass shooting every week now, and we're just like 'yeah that happens'. But it always strikes a deeper chord when we're dealing with younger people like Nex. I would say the story did negatively impact my mental health for a few weeks, but was it affected as much as members of the trans community? Probably not."


When asked to rate their mental health on a score from 1-100 from before the event to after, the median mental health score of our respondents from before was 52, and after was 48 (a 4-point decrease).


Focusing on just transgender individuals, the median before was 49, and the median after was 35 (a 14-point decrease). Note that segmenting this has also highlighted that cisgender (or other identities such as "Unsure") individuals had a median before of 65 and a median after of 56 (a 9-point decrease).


Bar graph breaking down the median mental health scores from before and after Nex Benedict's death, split by gender identity

Also noting the overall mental health difference between trans individuals and cisgender individuals, and considering a larger impact on the transgender community, we also compared the median "Mental Health Difference" (subtracting before from after on an individual level) and taking the median to produce a slightly different result. This calculation shows a Median Mental Health Difference of -6 points for all LGBTQ+ individuals, with a -8 for transgender individuals and a -4 for Cisgender/Other individuals.


Bar graph breaking down the median mental health score difference of respondents by gender identity

We understand this isn't perfect methodology due to the nature of asking respondents to recall their mental health from weeks beforehand, but it still highlights the difference in impact on the community.


"When something happens to someone that is more like you," Matt says, "that may impact you more. Right now transgender people are the current 'demonization', so it makes sense they would be more impacted. And it highlights the stark difference between how transgender people are treated versus just gay people."



Conclusion


The tragedy of Nex Benedict's death has impacted the LGBTQ+ community in immeasurable ways. We rallied together to push Nex's story to national attention. We grieved together. We hurt together


And if there's one thing we want to say, it's that the LGBTQ+ community has each other's backs. When respondents were asked if they agreed with this statement, "After learning about Nex's death, I want to do more to help the LGBTQ+ community", 78% agreed.


Bar graph breaking down how many respondents said that they want to do more to help the LGBTQ+ community after learning about Nex Benedict's death

Rest in Power Nex.



Support Our Work!


Thanks for reading! If you'd like to join our survey panel to partake in future surveys, follow this link to sign up. Head over to our podcast page here to listen to our thoughts and discussions on this topic!


We'd appreciate it if you could head over to our various social pages and engage with us, which helps boost our work!




Appendix A


Below are additional tables that break down the demographic groups that participated in this survey.


Age demographic breakdown of survey respondents
Respondent Age Breakdown

Gender identity demographic breakdown of respondents
Respondent Gender Identity Breakdown. (Respondents were given the option to select multiple)

Sexual orientation demographic breakdown of respondents
Respondent Sexual Orientation Breakdown. (Respondents were given the option to select multiple)

Country demographic breakdown of respondents
Respondent Country Breakdown

Race or ethnicity demographic breakdown of respondents
Respondent Race/Ethnicity Breakdown


Breakdown of respondents who identify as transgender
Respondent Transgender Identification Breakdown

Breakdown of respondents who identify as Intersex
Respondent Intersex Identification Breakdown








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