• U.S.

Crisis Center Receives 500% Increase in Calls Following Nex Benedict’s Death

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The Rainbow Youth Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ youth and has a call crisis center, has seen a 500% increase in the number of calls it received in the last week, following the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary sophomore at Owasso High School in Tulsa, Okla.

Nex passed away on Feb. 8, a day after the teen was assaulted in a school bathroom. The investigation into Nex’s passing remains ongoing. While Owasso Police say that the teen did not die as a result of trauma, parents say they will independently investigate the cause of Nex’s death.

The organization received 522 calls from Feb. 16 to Feb. 23, compared to the 87 it typically receives on a weekly basis, according to data shared with TIME. About 70% of calls mentioned the news out of Owasso as a reason for their distress. Even more, 85%, said they were facing bullying at school and/or on social media. 

At least 32 crisis contacts identified themselves as students at the high school that Nex attended, and another 14 were parents of students who go to Owasso High School, the Rainbow Youth Project said. 

The center previously reported increased calls last June, after Vanderbilt University Medical Center turned over transgender patients’ records to the state attorney general. 

“The impact of the anti-LGBTQ legislation and vitriol that has swept Oklahoma in recent years could not be clearer: educators failed to create a safe environment for Nex, and crisis contacts to hotlines served by organizations like the Rainbow Youth Project spiked at alarming rates following Nex's death,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Policies that exclude and smear people make every student, family and community less safe; and the harms of this lack of support are even greater for transgender and indigenous youth.”

In 2022, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill requiring public school students to use the restroom that matched their sex at birth, not gender identity. The state has also passed legislation banning transgender girls from competing on female sports teams, prohibiting gender-affirming care for transgender youth, and more. 

LGBTQ+ youth face alarmingly high rates of mental health issues—every 45 seconds, a queer young person attempts suicide, according to the Rainbow Youth Project. In Oklahoma, nearly 1 in 2 LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered suicide. 

“Our hearts break for Nex and their family. Our hearts also break for the other trans and nonbinary youth, especially youth of color, who face similar violence,” said Janson Wu, senior director at The Trevor Project. “Young people deserve to go to school without fearing for their safety, regardless of their identity. We hope that leaders in Oklahoma and across the U.S. wake up to the reality that targeting trans and nonbinary youth has real and dire consequences.”

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental-health crisis or contemplating suicide, call or text 988. To contact the Rainbow Youth Project, dial (317) 643 4888. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.

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