The Center and BAIHP bring diverse community members together to talk about nonbinary native youth‘s death

March 29, 2024 /

The indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ community are in mourning since the death of 16 year old, Chahta (Choctaw) native Owasso High School student Nex Benedict, a nonbinary youth who identified with they/them pronouns, in February 2024. Locally, organizations like The Center and Bakersfield American Indian Health Project (BAIHP) have been hosting healing events for the community, allies, concerned neighbors, and friends impacted by this loss.

The Kern County community was invited to gather on March 13 at The Center to participate in a talking circle in honor of Benedict. The Center is located in downtown across from Cafe Smitten, at 902 18th St.

This event was in collaboration with BAIHP who has made recent efforts to be more visible in the 2SLGBTQ+ community for all the two-spirit individuals. They smudged attendees with sage before the talking circle started, prayed over the gathering, and offered a song. Because Benedict was bullied for being nonbinary it was vital for BAIHP to continue to make a safe space for Kern County’s transgender, nonbinary, and two-spirit community.

Kern Sol asked Johnny Delgado, HR Generalist and Grants Program Director for BAIHP,
how important is it to keep talking about Nex Benedict?

“It’s very important. This is a hate crime. Somebody was assaulted, and unfortunately they passed away from it,” stated Delgado.

In recent national news Benedict’s autopsy and cause of death has been made public, which fuels the controversy surrounding who to blame and how the community should seek justice.

The day before Benedict passed they were in a physical altercation with other students. Benedict’s parents have reported several instances of gender and sexuality based bullying that occured at school.

According to Bakersfield’s 23ABC News, the Tulsa County District Attorney Stephen Kunzweiler is not charging any of the minors involved in the physical altercation at Owasso High School with committing a crime against Benedict. The autospy officially states the cause of death as a suicide. However, the fight that happened at Owasso High School has raised serious concerns with authorities such as the US Department of Education and the Human Rights Campaign with how the public school is handling violence amongst students in a safe or de-escalating manner.

Delgado explained that changes in mental and physical health care should include the growth of culturally appropriate care. An example of culturally appropriate care is encouraging health care providers to ask what pronouns their patients identify with and to be mindful of specific preventive care measures for vulnerable communities like the 2SLGBTQ+. Educating the public on ways they can be allies for the 2SLGBTQ+ community is a way Delgado fights negative stigma around preferred pronouns, gender, and sexuality.

Kern Sol asked Jordin Cooper, a member of the high school youth to share why it was important for her to attend the talking circle.

“I’ve seen it online a bunch, and it was just surprising because I was [Benedict’s] age,” said Cooper.

“Some people in my school are accepting but like only to a certain extent- mainly with gay, bi[sexual] and lesbians and they don’t accept the rest,” continued Cooper.

Another individual came forward to give Kern Sol comments anonymously.

“I wish there was more awareness going on constantly. For instance there should be more investigation, did Nex’s school district- did they have any support services? Was there counseling done for any of the students,” the anonymous source said.

The commenter continued to state that schools need to implement more support services like 2SLGBTQ+ centered clubs on campus.

Many participants expressed frustration over the school districts lack of acknowledgement or support during this time of loss for the indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ populations.

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