Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Northampton vigil honors nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict weeks after their death

Community members, educators and parents gathered in front of Northampton City Hall on Saturday evening to commemorate the 16-year-old high school student
Photo courtesy of Eva Rocheleau

Note: The first and last names of those mentioned in this story are protected for privacy and personal reasons out of respect for the community.

Nearly 70 people stood around the steps of city hall in Northampton, Massachusetts on Saturday evening to remember Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old high school student from Owasso, Oklahoma who died on Feb. 8, after a fight in a bathroom with classmates. 

The vigil was part of a nationwide effort that took place over the weekend, where several cities held an event in honor of Benedict. Several attendees adorned masks, pride flags and signs, with some children accompanying their parents. Translate Gender, a western Massachusetts nonprofit that works with trans and nonbinary youth organzed the vigil, providing resources during the event at a care table. 

Jamie Long, a junior journalism and art history student at the University of Massachusetts was one of the first to speak to the crowd, referencing a video they saw earlier in the day of Benedict in their hospital room with an Owasso police officer. 

“Like all of us, many of us, I’ve been rocked by this news,” said Long. “It hasn’t left my mind, and as the story develops it’s become more present. Trans youth are a gift…and we need to protect them.”

Translate Gender organizers spoke of Benedict’s background – they were a straight-A student who loved to play Minecraft, adored animals and enjoyed nature. They also noted that Benedict’s family traces part of their ancestry to the Choctaw Nation, one of many Indigenous communities that recognize third genders.

Educators in Massachusetts are just as furious as those in Oklahoma. Several were in attendance at the vigil, including Randall Furash-Stewart, a social studies teacher at Franklin County Technical School and one of the advisors for the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance club.

“When I heard of this, it brought me back to last year,” Furash-Stewart said, in reference to a similar incident where a student of his was subjected to verbal and physical harassment in a bathroom stall. “It feels very close to home, not far away.”

Stewart added that the students who were involved were suspended for only one day, and felt that there needed to be a stronger urgency for training at schools on protections for trans students. 

“There’s so much that we can do for those connected in schools…this is heavy on my heart and I’ve been thinking about what I can do when I go back to school on Monday to make it safer for these kids,” Furash-Stewart said.

As someone from Oklahoma, a third-year Smith College student named Spencer noted their appreciation of the large turnout at the vigil.

“Seeing a crowd of people here that are from Massachusetts, or Florida…something in Oklahoma is getting heard,” Spencer said. “People don’t talk unless they’re afraid. Please keep talking about this.”

A myriad of trans and queer individuals between the ages of 15 to 31 spoke in front of the crowd, discussing violence against trans and nonbinary people, the significance of community support and their frustration with the criminal legal system.

A 21-year-old attendee recalled the memory of what it was like for them at Benedict’s age, and said “You’re going to grow up, and there is so much joy to experience as a trans adult person in this world.”

Reiterating the services of Translate Gender, Eva Rocheleau, youth engagement coordinator for the organization and senior education major at UMass, reminded the crowd that there is a youth-mentoring program.

The importance of mentorship as a young person was also highlighted through one trans woman’s testimony, who referenced the death of Cecilia Gentili. Gentili was an activist who advocated for the rights of trans people and sex workers and died on Feb. 6, two days before Benedict.

“Trans people don’t get to experience the fullness of life, and it makes me really angry,” they said. “I desperately want a world where trans people can live long, full lives…and as adults we must work to build that world.”

Olivia Capriotti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X @capriottiolivia.

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    SageFeb 28, 2024 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you for the coverage of this sad and tragic loss of yet another trans youth in America.