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Biden issues statement on death of LGBTQ teen Nex Benedict drawing attention to suicide crisis

Biden issues statement on death of LGBTQ teen Nex Benedict drawing attention to suicide crisis

President Joe Biden issued a statement on the death of transgender Oklahoma teen Nex Benedict, whose Feb. 8 death a day after a fight at Owasso High School was ruled a suicide Wednesday.

“Jill and I are heartbroken by the recent loss of Nex Benedict,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “Every young person deserves to have the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are, and feel safe and supported at school and in their communities. Nex Benedict, a kid who just wanted to be accepted, should still be here with us today.”

In memory of Nex, Biden said, “we must all recommit to our work to end discrimination and address the suicide crisis impacting too many nonbinary and transgender children.” 

“Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did,” Biden said. “Parents and schools must take reports of bullying seriously. My prayers are with Nex’s family, friends, and all who loved them — and to all LGBTQI+ Americans for whom this tragedy feels so personal, know this: I will always have your back.” 

A candlelight vigil for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict on Feb. 24 in Oklahoma City.J Pat Carter / Getty Images file

The president closed his message by telling LGBTQ youth that they can call or text 988, the National Crisis Hotline, and dial the number “3” to talk to a counselor who has been specifically trained to support LGBTQ youth. 

Nex, who was transgender and used he and they pronouns, according to friends and family,  was involved in a fight at Owasso High School’s West Campus on Feb. 7. Nex told police three students “jumped” him after he threw water on them because they were bullying him and his friend for the way they dressed. Sue Benedict, Nex’s mother, told the Independent that Nex had previously told her he was bullied due to his gender identity. 

On Feb. 8, Sue Benedict called 911 and told the operator that Nex’s hands were posturing, which refers to an involuntary movement that can indicate abnormal brain activity, according to audio of the 911 call that the Owasso Police Department released last month. She also said the teen’s eyes were rolled in the back of his head and his breathing was shallow, and she worried that he had a brain injury from the fight at school. Nex was transported to St. Francis Children’s Hospital and pronounced dead.

The Oklahoma medical examiner’s office released a summary report Wednesday that found Nex died by suicide, with a probable cause of death from the “combined toxicity” of two drugs, one of which is available over the counter and the other by prescription. The full report will be released March 27, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Lt. Nick Boatman, a spokesperson for the Owasso Police Department, said in an email Thursday that the department’s investigation won’t be concluded until investigators present their findings to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office. The district attorney will then determine what charges, if any, could be filed against other students involved in the fight with Nex.

LGBTQ youth face a disproportionate risk of suicide, according to research. A 2022 survey of about 28,000 LGBTQ young people conducted by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, found that more than 40% of respondents ages 13 to 24 said they seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year, including half of trans and nonbinary respondents.

Those rates were higher for respondents in Oklahoma, with 48%, saying they seriously considered suicide in the past year, including 55% of trans and nonbinary youth. Of respondents in Oklahoma, 16% said they attempted suicide in the past year, including 20% of trans and nonbinary youth. 

The Department of Education opened a federal investigation into Owasso Public Schools earlier this month for allegedly failing to address previous complaints of discrimination from students. The investigation was opened following a complaint from the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group.

If you are an LGBTQ young person in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 1-866-488-7386 or the Rainbow Youth Project at 1-317-643-4888.

Jo Yurcaba

Jo Yurcaba is a reporter for NBC Out.

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