Let us honor the memory of Nex Benedict

 - by Osmany Villa

Today, I write this with a heavy heart, burdened by the weight of injustice and the tragic loss of one of our own. As a transgender woman living in Oklahoma, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges and struggles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in our state. It is a reality that cannot be ignored, a reality that demands our attention and action.

Oklahoma, a state still heavily influenced by the church, where the lines between religion and governance are blurred, has made it increasingly difficult for individuals like myself to live authentically and freely. The intertwining of state and church has created an environment where discrimination thrives and where the rights and dignity of LGBTQIA+ individuals are often disregarded.

But it is not just a matter of discrimination; it is a matter of life and death. Our youth and future are being targeted simply for being who they are. It is unacceptable, it is unjust, and it is a stain on the fabric of our society. The recent tragedy of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old taken from us far too soon, serves as a grim reminder of the dangers faced by LGBTQIA+ youth in our communities.

To Ryan Walters and those who continue to perpetuate this culture of discrimination and hatred, I ask, “Are you proud of yourselves? Is this the legacy you wish to leave behind? Using the lives of our youth as pawns in your political games is not only reprehensible but also a gross betrayal of the values we hold dear.”

I remember not so long ago when Oklahoma City public schools embraced diversity and acceptance. I remember running for Prom Queen with the full support of my peers and teachers, celebrating a victory that symbolized progress and inclusivity. Yet, today, I see a different landscape—a landscape tainted by bigotry and fear, fueled by the influence of the church and the erosion of the separation between church and state.

But amidst the darkness, there is hope. We, as a community, have the power to effect change. We must come together, speak out against injustice, and demand accountability from those in positions of power. Evil knows no bounds, but neither does our resilience and determination to create a better world for ourselves and future generations.

Let us honor the memory of Nex Benedict and all those who have been lost to senseless violence by standing up, speaking out, and fighting for a future where every individual is treated with dignity, respect, and equity. Together, we can make Oklahoma a place where love triumphs over hate and all are free to live their truth without fear of persecution.

The Gayly, Feb. 28, 2024 @ 2:32 p.m. CST.