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Evelyn Carpenter holds transgender pride flag during candle light vigil for Nex Benedict

Locals, students celebrate Nex Benedict's life, call for action against House Bill 68

Correction appended: a previous version of this article featured inaccuracies. To read the correction, click here.

Editor’s Note: Jamie Miller, an organizer of and speaker at this event, is a current Post contributor. According to its policy, The Post does not run articles with sources who are current or former contributors, but due to the newsworthiness of this event, an exception was made.

A group of students and Athens locals attended a vigil on College Green late Saturday evening. The vigil was organized in remembrance of Nex Benedict, a transgender high school student from Oklahoma. 

Benedict died early February after an altercation with three other students while using the bathroom at their school. The cause of his death is still under investigation and has caused an outpouring of support for them and transgender youths across the country. According to friends of Benedict who spoke to the New York Times, Benedict used they/them pronouns as well as he/him pronouns.

Jamie Miller and Ari Faber organized and executed the event personally, with some support from co-sponsors: OU’s LGBT Center and United Campus Ministries, which provided materials like candles, high-visability jackets and a microphone.

Approximately 35 attendees lit candles in celebration of Benedict’s life. Emcee Jamie Miller spoke about Benedict, addressing him directly and finding parts of Benedict in himself and members of the crowd. At the vigil, people wrote messages to Benedict’s loved ones. Emotions ran high as Riley Rees, Lee Stanforth, Jamie Carey and Jonah Heintzelman spoke and performed. 

“The Ascending Circle: A Two-Spirit Poem" by two-spirit Apache poet Marcy Angeles was also read in acknowledgement of Benedict’s membership of the Choctaw Nation.

“Our Two Spirit Siblings paid a high price for such a small percentage of us to survive,“ the poem reads.

Two Spirit is a pan-Indigenous term which acknowledges the diverse traditions of sexual and gender diversity within many Indigenous nations of North America. It refers specifically to Indigenous LGBTQIA+ individuals and can refer to varying identities or context depending on the tribe, referring to gender identity in Benedict’s case.

“I’m here tonight to create a sense of community and to celebrate (Benedict’s) life and his now-legacy, and recognize that he will never be forgotten,” Evelyn Carpenter, a junior studying special education, said. “It doesn’t need to be more than one life to be enough and each life is important in their own ways. It’s tragic.”

A march to the Athens City Courthouse protesting Ohio House Bill 68 followed the vigil. The march was not sponsored by the LGBT Center. House Bill 68 places a ban on gender-affirming care for minors in Ohio.

Benedict’s death and vigil opened the conversation around the proposed Ohio House Bill 68 among students as well.

“If this bill is passed, the violence that we see is going to increase and we will lose more kids,” Carpenter said. “I’m very much in protest of that bill being passed. I’m hoping to just see it not become a law.”

Students also shared their feelings on the value of staying connected to events that impact the LGBTQIA+ community.  

“I think it’s important when you have the emotional bandwidth, to engage in these sorts of things and remind yourself that this is still happening and we need to do something about it,” Kurt Lindemann, a junior studying integrated social studies education, said. 

Heintzelman, the resident director of Wilson Hall, sang "Danny Boy" at the vigil. Heintzelman said he has previously experienced violence because of his identity as a transgender man.

“Even though I didn’t know Nex, Nex is all of us,” he said. “We are all Nex. I very easily could have also died after being beaten up, the fact that I survived is just luck of the draw.”

Despite the somber circumstances, attendees mentioned feelings of support.

“Being able to see everyone here reminds me there is community here,” Heintzelman said. “You just have to look for it. It’s really nice to see people show up in support.” 

Micah McCarey, the director of OU’s LGBT Center, was in attendance at the vigil. 

“It’s really important when we have community tragedies that are impacting our spirits and our well-being to come together in community,” McCarey said. “I find it really uplifting to be a part of these commemorations.”

After the vigil concluded, many attendees participated in a march to the Athens Courthouse. “Make it clear, make it loud / Trans life is here and trans life is proud,” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, transphobia has got to go” and “We’re here, we’re queer” were among the chants shouted during the march.

After reaching the Courthouse, attendees were invited to speak on their personal experiences and perspectives.

McCarey was not a part of the march, nor was he associated with it, but he said outside of events like the vigil, there are many opportunities for people to demand change.

“For demanding change, I think contacting state and federal legislators is the best way to impact policy at those levels,” McCarey said.

Along with getting in touch with officials, McCarey emphasizes local actions such as posting on social media, writing for local publications and coming to LGBTQIA+ events and performances.

As the event transitioned from the vigil to a march, reaction from onlookers increased along Court Street.

People passing by the march offered gestures of support, but a few passersby driving on S. Court Street yelled slurs like ‘f----t’ at protesters and sped away. Protesters reclaimed the slur by chanting “I love being a f----t” multiple times after the incident.

Benedict’s vigil and march began at 7 p.m. and ended at approximately 8:50 p.m. on the steps of the Athens Courthouse. 

Protesters shared worries about the effect laws like House Bill 68 will have on transgender high schoolers like Nex Benedict.

“No child deserves to die because of who they are,” Lindemann said. “No child deserves to be denied health care because somebody who has no medical experience says they shouldn’t. Trans healthcare is healthcare, and healthcare is the business of the person who is receiving it.” 




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