Americans United criticizes Oklahoma officials for anti-LGBTQ+ crusade that contributed to death of Nex Benedict

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the initial report from the Oklahoma medical examiner’s office that Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old, nonbinary public school student, died by suicide after they were allegedly beaten by fellow students:

“We are still learning more about the death of Nex Benedict, but the finding of suicide does not absolve Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters or Chaya Raichik of their culpability.

“During his tenure, Walters has fostered an environment that embraces Christian Nationalism and is hostile to 2SLGBTQIA+ people and others. Walters has divided the schoolchildren of Oklahoma according to his personal religious beliefs, favoring some and alienating and persecuting others.

Walters appointed Chaya Raichik of anti-LGBTQ+ Libs of TikTok to ban books

“Walters appointed Raichik, an unqualified internet bully, to ban books and oversee school safety. Raichik runs the Libs of TikTok social media accounts that are known for attacking LGBTQ+ people and once smeared the Trevor Project, a LGBTQ+ youth suicide-prevention service, as a ‘grooming organization.’

“Following Nex’s death, Walters callously said: ‘There’s not multiple genders. There’s two. That’s how God created us.’ Walters worked to approve the nation’s first religious public school, which will discriminate against 2SLGBTQIA+ students, forcing Americans United to sue. Just last month, in a flagrant display of Christian Nationalism, Walters prayed before a captive audience of second-graders at Riverside Elementary School when he was supposed to be reading a book for story time.

“The framers of our Constitution understood that separating church and state was necessary for an inclusive, pluralistic democracy. It’s no coincidence that as the tide of White Christian Nationalism has been rising, our country has been more divided – and violent – than ever.

Walters and Raichik must be removed from office

“Walters created the un-American environment that drove this child – a child he’s supposed to protect – to a place of hopelessness and despair. The medical examiner’s finding does nothing to change that hostile environment. Without a change, this will happen again. Walters and Raichik must be removed from office.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please call or text 988. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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