Fury as Oklahoma senator calls LGBTQ+ people ‘filth’ after being asked about Nex Benedict’s death

Oklahoma senator Tom Woods (R) wears a grey shirt and black vest as he speaks to camera. The Republican lawmaker described LGBTQ+ people as "filth" after being questioned about anti-LGBTQ+ laws and the death of non-binary teen Nex Benedict

A Republican senator has described LGBTQ+ people as “filth”, in response to a question about the recent death of 16-year-old student Nex Benedict, sparking outrage.

Nex Benedict, who was gender non-conforming and used he/they pronouns according to his friends (as confirmed in this NBC interview), died on 8 February, one day after telling their family they had been involved in a physical altercation in the toilets at Owasso High School.

The cause of death has yet to be determined, but police said an early autopsy finding showed that Benedict didn’t die as a result of trauma.

But Benedict’s family said the teen was frequently bullied, and described the early details about the incident as “troubling at best”.

During a public legislative panel forum on Friday (23 February), audience member Cathy Cott asked why the legislature has “such an obsession with the LGBTQ+ citizens of Oklahoma, what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children”.

Cott pressed the four panellists – Republican senators Tom Woods, David Hardin, Blake “Cowboy” Stephen and Dewayne Pemberton – about the “50 bills targeting the LGBTQ community in the state. 

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She then highlighted Benedict’s death, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press

After two of them responded to the questions, Woods said his “heart goes out” regarding the teen’s death, but added: “We are a Republican state – supermajority in the house and senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma.

“We are a religious state and we are going to fight it to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we are a Christian state. We are a moral state. 

“We are a Republican state and I’m going to vote my district, and I’m going to vote my values, and we don’t want that in the state of Oklahoma.”

A clip of the exchange, posted on X (formerly Twitter) by LGBTQ+ program director for Media Matters Ari Drennen, gathered over a thousand responses – many of them outraged.

“I don’t know how to cope with the knowledge that he will face zero consequences for saying this,” wrote one user. Another added: “I’m sorry but when you are in an elected position you represent EVERYONE – not just the people who live life by your rules.”

The Owasso Police Department released a series of videos on Friday that offer a snapshot of the day before Benedict’s death. This included a body camera video from an officer’s interview with the teenager, who described how three students “came at” him after he threw water on them because they were bullying Nex and a friend. 

Sue Benedict, Nex’s grandmother, who adopted the teen, told the Independent that she hadn’t seen the footage before it was released publicly. “I found out just minutes before and I lost it,” she said. “That was my baby, my child.”

Benedict’s death prompted responses from national LGBTQ+ rights organisations and from US vice-president Kamala Harris, who offered her condolences to the teen’s family. She promised that the current administration stood with those who were “hurting and are afraid right now”. 

Vigils have been held across the country since Benedict’s death. At one gathering, friends described the teen as an “adventurous little thing” and a “fiery kid” who would “light up a room”.

GoFundMe has been created to help the family with the funeral costs in the wake of Nex Benedict’s death. It has raised more than $148,800 (approximately £188,800) so far. 

In an update posted to the campaign, Sue said the rest of the funds raised “will go to other children dealing with the right to be who they feel they are, in Nex’s name”.