Nothing the Medical Examiner Can Report Will Change Nex Benedict’s Cause of Death

On the evening of March 13th, 2024, it was reported by the Owasso Medical Examiner’s Office that Nex Benedict‘s cause of death was “a combined overdose of Diphenhydramine and Fluoxetine,” otherwise known as Benadryl (an antihistamine taken for allergies) and Prozac (an anti-depressant). The M.E. concluded that “Benedict died by suicide and did not die as a direct result of trauma from the physical altercation at the school.”

This conclusion is incorrect. 

Before the release of the complete medical report on March 27th, we won’t know with any degree of certainty if the current report tells a complete picture — there is, understandably, a great deal of skepticism due to the incredibly high volume of those two drugs that would need to be consumed to cause their death without any extenuating physical circumstances.

But that’s not why that conclusion is incorrect. It’s incorrect because whether Nex died at the hands of a bully or by his own hands, it feels safe to say that he did die as a direct result of trauma from the physical altercation at the school. Maybe not just the one, maybe so many more. Maybe years of bullying, of ostracization, of feeling unwelcome and out of place at the school he was required to attend every day.

In a statement released yesterday, Nicole McAfee, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma, emphasized this understanding:

“This Medical Examiner’s summary report offers, for a second time, only limited insight into a decision about possible cause of death for Nex Benedict. And, we have said from the beginning that whether Nex died as a result of the physical or emotional harm he was subjected to, our elected officials, our appointed State Board of Education, Owasso High School, and all of us failed Nex in allowing for policies and rhetoric that created a regularly hostile environment for a kid just trying to live as his authentic self.  It’s clear, we must shift the priorities of Oklahoma public schools, so that the well being of students is placed ahead of policies and talking points churned out by national extremist groups at the expense of 2SLGBTQ+ lives.”

On February 7th, Benedict was reportedly beaten by three classmates and subsequently admitted to the hospital, where he was interviewed by police and discharged. In the police interview, Benedict’s mother said her child had been bullied repeatedly and that the school was unwilling to take action to protect them. The following morning, Benedict collapsed at home. He was shortly thereafter pronounced dead. His death made headlines and inspired walkouts, protests, vigils and marches nationwide, as advocates demanded answers and accountability.

GLAAD has been documenting the abysmal, hateful and anti-LGBTQ record of Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Education on its website, a record that includes (as per GLAAD):

  • Falsely and harmfully denying the existence and long history of Two Spirit and gender expansive people including among Indigenous cultures in his own state, after the bullying, beating and death of Two Spirit Transgender Gender Nonconforming (2STGNC+) teenager Nex Benedict, who was of Choctaw heritage
  • Pushing book bans, harassing educators who support the freedom to read, and appearing with extremist national book banning group Moms for Liberty, an appearance for which Walters billed Oklahoma taxpayers
  • Producing and promoting videos that wrongfully and dangerously accuse transgender youth of being a threat in schools
  • Spreading disinformation about accurate inclusive history in his state, including denying that the Tulsa Massacre was a racist attack

Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik is on the state library board in Oklahoma. In 2022, her anti-trans hate-filled social media site posted a video mocking an Owasso High School teacher for supporting queer and trans students. That teacher, who Nex looked up to, resigned following outcry. The next year Raichik was appointed by Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters to supposedly “make schools safer” in the state.

Oklahoma Representative Mauree Turner, the first openly nonbinary U.S. state lawmaker, posted a statement in their instagram which included the following: “Whether or not it was a suicide or homicide — The state of Oklahoma absolutely is responsible for the death of Nex Benedict. From Ryan Walters, to school officials, to members of the Oklahoma Legislature. We failed Nex and continue to fail students like Nex when these leaders* remain in power.”

Beginning in the fall of 2010, there was what felt like an epidemic of suicide amongst gay teens, most often young gay boys. Autostraddle was not alone in covering each and every one of them, and it seemed that this media awareness campaign accomplished something, from the mixed results and productions of the It Gets Better project to a noticeable lessening of pushback on positive representation of gay youth on television and in cinema. By spring of the following year, the television landscape had shifted radically, filled with young gay people struggling with their sexuality. Stories that served to further marginalize and oppress gay youth faded from screen.

Fourteen years later, it’s also clear that for so many teens forced to face the daily unrelenting pressure and abuse that comes from being queer and trans in high school, the ways that being a political volleyball in the press and on campaign podiums melts into the very real treatment you receive from your peers — this is not something that has been cheerily solved or can be moved on away from. It’s a grind that can eat away at the marrow of you. And it’s a fight that no teen, no child (because we are talking about children) should have to face on their own.

The cause of Nex’s passing will be a source of conversation in the coming weeks. Nex’s life was about so much more than his final moments. But it is also so important that we get what happened in his final moments right, and focus on the underlying causes that, no matter what, stay the same.

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Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3178 articles for us.

Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 699 articles for us.

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