350+ LGBTQ, CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS, AND NOTABLE PUBLIC FIGURES URGE REMOVAL OF OKLAHOMA SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION RYAN WALTERS, AND D.O.E. INVESTIGATION

Wednesday, 28 February 2024 21:24

350+ LGBTQ, CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS, AND NOTABLE PUBLIC FIGURES URGE REMOVAL OF OKLAHOMA SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION RYAN WALTERS, AND D.O.E. INVESTIGATION Featured

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LOCAL AND NATIONAL LEADERS ILLUSTRATE FAILURE OF WALTERS AND OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION IN THE MONTHS PRECEDING THE DEATH OF NEX BENEDICT, A 16-YEAR-OLD 2STGNC+ (Two Spirit, transgender, and gender nonconforming+) STUDENT OF CHOCTAW HERITAGE

KRISTIN CHENOWETH, DEMI LOVATO, CYNTHIA NIXON, JONATHAN VAN NESS, TOMMY DORFMAN, ALOK, PEPPERMINT, EMMA ROBERTS, AMY SCHNEIDER, K.D. LANG AND MORE JOIN AS SIGNERS

RAINBOW YOUTH PROJECT REPORTS NEARLY 1,000 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS CONTACTS FROM LGBTQ YOUTH ACROSS OKLAHOMA FOLLOWING NEX’S DEATH

(Tulsa, Oklahoma, February 28, 2024) – Today more than 350 national, state, and local organizations advocating for equality across the U.S., alongside notable public figures, issued an open letter to Oklahoma legislative leadership urging justice for Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old 2STGNC+ (Two Spirit, transgender, and gender nonconforming+) student of Choctaw heritage who died following an attack in a restroom at Owasso High School in Oklahoma earlier this month. 

The letter calls for the immediate removal of Oklahoma state superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters, who has a long history of anti-2SLGBTQI+ (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+) rhetoric and policies; and an investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education to determine what actions and policies have led to a culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked. The letter reads in part:

“We are outraged that a climate of hate and bigotry has been not only allowed to thrive, but encouraged by the person who is responsible for education in the state of Oklahoma. State officials must be held accountable for bringing the politics of hate into Oklahoma’s schools and making our most vulnerable youth pay the price.”

Signers span Oklahoma-specific civil rights groups, churches and faith denominations, legal groups and unions, and more, to national education and youth advocacy groups, civil rights organizations, women’s rights leaders, and equality groups in neighboring states.

In addition to organizational signers, notable names including Kristin Chenoweth, Demi Lovato, Cynthia Nixon, k.d. lang, Jonathan Van Ness, Amy Schneider, Peppermint, ALOK, Emma Roberts, and Tommy Dorfman all joined onto the letter.

Statement from Nicole McAfee (they/she), Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma:

“The same week as Oklahoma and much of the world was grappling with the news of a 16-year-old Indigenous, 2STGNC+ student left dead after experiencing head trauma in a bathroom fight that involved anti-trans bullying, State Superintendent Ryan Walters and his gubernatorial appointed school board unanimously passed fifteen administrative rules that did everything from ban DEI programs to name Judeo Christian values as the foundations of Oklahoma public education. It's yet another example that not only is Walters out of touch with the needs of Oklahoma students, teachers, and families, but he is willing to continue his work to make public schools in Oklahoma hostile for 2SLGBTQ+ and BIPOC students, no matter the cost. All Oklahoma students deserve the safety to show up and learn as their full selves, and that is not possible so long as Ryan Walters is allowed to remain in his position. There will never truly be justice for a dead student, but Nex's community deserves, at minimum, a full investigation of the State Department of Education, and an end to the Ryan Walters regime.”

The letter was organized by Freedom Oklahoma, which works to build an Oklahoma where all 2SLGBTQ+ people have the safety to thrive; GLAAD, the world’s leading LGBTQ media advocacy organization; the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization; and GLSEN, a multi-racial intergenerational LGBTQ+ organization working nationally and locally to transform K-12 educational systems in the United States.

On Monday, Rainbow Youth Project, a social welfare organization that promotes the health, safety, and wellness of 2SLGBTQ+ young people throughout the United States, reported 987 mental health crisis contacts from youth inside Oklahoma; 894 have been received since February 16th, when news about Nex’s death gained national attention. 

Rainbow Youth Project reports that crisis contacts also spiked over the past year as state lawmakers continued passing discriminatory laws banning essential health care for transgender youth (May 2023, followed by 443 crisis contacts, up from 58 the month before), an inflammatory and inaccurate video produced by Walters’ education department falsely insinuating transgender students are a threat in schools in June (472 crisis contacts recorded), and policies to erase transgender and gender diverse people from official state designations and in school facilities (issued August 2023, followed by 453 crisis contacts). Oklahoma had passed a ban on students using the restroom aligned with authentic gender in May 2022, and a ban on transgender students participating in school sports in March 2022.

Statement from Sarah Kate Ellis (she/her), President & CEO of GLAAD:

“Superintendent Walters appears to have no interest in the safety and future of Oklahoma’s students as he has dangerously and recklessly prioritized escalating attacks against LGBTQ, indigenous, and vulnerable youth, promoting lies, spreading disinformation, and pushing broad scale discriminatory policies that do nothing to improve education. He has policed LGBTQ and affirming educators and pushed forward draconian rhetoric and policies to erase the culture and history of entire communities of Oklahomans. He is on the record using taxpayer funds to fuel his extremist agenda, in alignment with national anti-LGBTQ groups like Moms for Liberty and extremists on social media. Removing Walters would be one measure of justice for Nex Benedict and every other young Oklahoman, and a small step toward ensuring a new era in Oklahoma schools where every young person should be safe, protected and belong.”

Statement from Melanie Willingham-Jaggers (they/she), Executive Director of GLSEN:

“Nex's life was taken due to anti-trans hatred peddled by State Superintendent Ryan Walters, Chaya Raichik (Libs of TikTok) and extremist state legislators. These adults must be held accountable for their actions and words. Hate speech, especially when enshrined into law as demonstrated by Oklahoma's transphobic bathroom ban, not only brainwashes children to commit atrocious acts of violence but also desensitizes the adults in their environment, fostering a culture of callousness and disregard for human life. The tragic reality is that the youth who inflicted fatal injuries upon Nex were indoctrinated by fear and instilled with hatred of trans individuals. This indoctrination was so potent that they felt justified in carrying out an assault on their peer in a school bathroom. All children should be able to go to school and come home alive. Trans, non-binary and queer kids should be able to go to school and come home alive. As we grieve this loss, we persist in our fight and our commitment to rise up in support of queer and trans youth, and against extremism that attempts to use our education system to further hate and to erase queer youth.” 

Statement from Kelley Robinson (she/her), President of the Human Rights Campaign: 

“Long before Nex Benedict’s tragic death, Superintendent Walters’ troubling history of transphobic and racist behavior consistently put Oklahoma’s students, staff and teachers at risk. Now, his callous response to Nex’s death makes it clearer than ever that he is unfit for the role–and is in fact a danger to Oklahoma’s youth. Oklahoma students deserve to learn in an environment where they can be their authentic selves, free of harassment and bullying. That will never be the case with Ryan Walters in charge. The entire Oklahoma Department of Education must be investigated, and Walters must lose his job.” 

To view the current full list of singers, click here. Organizations seeking to add their names as signers can do so here; and individuals can do so here.

For a comprehensive look at Ryan Walters’ record on LGBTQ people and issues, visit https://glaad.org/gap/ryan-walters/

The current full list of signers is as follows:

Organizations Based in or Serving Oklahoma:

Burning Cedar Sovereign Wellness

Campaign for Southern Equality

Church of the Open Arms & Cathedral of Hope OKC

Community Cares by Trust Women

Cousins

D. Hammond & Associates, PLLC

Diversity Center of Oklahoma

Diversity Family Health

End HIV Oklahoma

First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City

Foundation for Liberating Minds

Freedom Oklahoma

Hopkins Law and Associates, P.C.

Let's Fix This

Lumina: Queer Student Alliance

Matriarch

Metriarch®

Mingalar Myanmar Alliance, Inc.

National Lawyers Guild, Oklahoma Chapter

OKC Democratic Socialists of America

OKC DSA Queer

Oklahoma Action Chorus

Oklahoma City Pride

Oklahoma Faith Network

Oklahoma Pride Alliance

Oklahomans for Equality

Open Arm Photography & Art

OUHSC Black Student Association

PFLAG Enid OK

PFLAG Norman

PFLAG OKC

PFLAG Stillwater

PFLAG Tulsa

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes

Rural Oklahoma Pride

SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity

Stand For the Silent

Starbucks Workers United OKC

TahlEquality

The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc.

Trans Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma

Trust Women Foundation

Tulsa Infectious Disease & AIDS League (TIDAL)

National Organizations:

Advocates for Youth

AFT

Agape MCC

American Association of School Librarians

American Atheists

American Humanist Association

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Arab American Institute

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Athlete Ally

Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

Center for American Progress

Center for Freethought Equality

CenterLink: The Community of LGBTQ Centers

Coalition for Responsible Home Education

COLAGE

Defense of Democracy

EducateUS

Envision:You

Equality Federation

Family Equality

FFRF Action Fund

FORGE, Inc.

Gender Justice League

GLAAD

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ+ Equality

GLSEN

GSA Network

Health Justice Commons

Human Rights Campaign

I Am Human Foundation

Interfaith Alliance

It Gets Better

Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)

Knit the Rainbow, Inc.

Lambda Legal

Matthew Shepard Foundation

MomsRising

Movement Advancement Project

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Parent Leadership, Advocacy, and Community Empowerment (National PLACE)

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Education Association

National Harm Reduction Coalition

National LGBT Cancer Network

National LGBTQ Task Force

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Trans Bar Association

National Women's Law Center

Our Schools USA

PFLAG National

Plume Health

Positive Women's Network-USA

Project HEAL

Public Justice

QFPP

Queer Equity Institute

Rainbow Youth Project USA

Sam & Devorah Foundation for Trans Youth

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Shakina Inc.

SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change

State Innovation Exchange (SIX)

The Advocacy Institute

The Center for Constitutional Rights

The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP)

The Sikh Coalition

The Trevor Project

The Unitarian Universalist Association

Trans Formations Project

TransFamiy Support Services

Transgender Law Center

Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF)

True Colors United

UFCW OUTreach

UltraViolet

Unity Fellowship Church Movement

State and Local Organizations Outside of Oklahoma:

Affirmations Community Center

AIM IT; WI

All Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist

All Rainbow and Allied Youth

All Under One Roof LGBTQ ADVOCATES of Southeastern Idaho

Alliance for Full Acceptance

API Equality-LA

APLA Health

Arkansas Black Gay Men's Forum

Bellingham Queer Collective

Big Sky High School Gender Sexuality Alliance

Black Pride NOLA

Borderland Rainbow Center

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center

CAMP Rehoboth, Inc.

Center for Immigrant Protection

Charlotte Trans Health

CoastPride

Communication Madison

Diverse & Resilient

Diversity Alliance of the Puget Sound

Diversity Collective

Diversity Collective Ventura County

Eastern PA Trans Equity Project

Edge New Jersey

El/La Para TransLatinas

Embrace United Church of Christ

EmpowerMT

Equality Arizona

Equality California

Equality Connecticut

Equality Delaware

Equality Nevada

Equality New Mexico

Equality New York

Equality North Carolina

Equality Ohio

Equality South Dakota

Equality Texas

Equality Virginia

Fair Wisconsin

Fairness Campaign

FAIRNY

Faith Commons

Family Voices NJ

First Unitarian Church of Dallas

Flamingo Democrats

Fortaleza Familiar

Four Corners Rainbow Youth Center

Freedom, Inc.

FreeState Justice

Galileo Christian Church

Garden State Equality

Gender Justice (Minnesota and North Dakota)

Gender Justice LA

GenderNexus

Georgia Equality

Georgia Safe Schools Coalition

GLYS Western New York

GMHC

Grand Rapids Trans Foundation

GSAFE

Guilford Green Foundation & LGBTQ Center

GVSU YDSA/SDS

Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation

He She Ze and We

Henderson Equality Center

Hetrick-Martin Institute

Hudson Pride Center

Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center

Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation

Identity Inc.

Immune Boosters

inclusion tennessee

Inside Out Youth Services

Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition

LGBT Center of Greater Reading

LGBT Center of Raleigh

LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin

LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland

LGBT Community Center of Long Island, Inc.

LGBT Community Network

LGBTQ Center OC

LGBTQ Community Organizer GV

Live Out Loud

Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, Inc. (LIGALY)

Long Island SAGE

Los Angeles Bi+ Task Force

Los Angeles LGBT Center

Louisiana Trans Advocates

Louisville Youth Group

Madison Anarcha Collective

MaineTransNet

Mainline

Makom Shelanu Congregation

Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition

MassEquality

Mazzoni Center

Middle Tennessee Democratic Socialists of America

Middleton Hills Trans Anarchist Collective

Monterey Peninsula Pride

Montgomery Pride United/ Bayard Rustin Community Center

Mountain Pride

Muncie OUTreach LGBTQ+ Center

Naper Pride

National Council of Jewish Women Texas

New Bern Pride

New Haven Pride Center

North County LGBTQ Resource Center

North Dakota Human Rights Coalition

North Shore Alliance of GLBTQ+ Youth (NAGLY)

Northwest Arkansas Equality, Inc.

NoVA Prism Center

NY LGBT Network

Ogden Pride

One Colorado

One Iowa

one-n-ten

Openhouse

Out Boulder County

Out in the Open

OUT MetroWest

Out On The Lakeshore

Out Professional Engagement Network

OutCenter Southwest Michigan

OutFront Kalamazoo

OutFront Minnesota

OUTMemphis

OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center

Pacific Center for Human Growth

Pacific Pride Foundation

PEAK Parent Center

PFLAG FW

PFLAG Mount Horeb Chapter

Pittsburgh Equality Center

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin

Positive Images

Pride at Work AFL-CIO Rochester Finger Lakes Chapter

Pride Center of Terre Haute Inc.

Pride Community Center, Inc

Pride Foundation

Prism United

PROMO Missouri

Public Advocates

QSpace Bismarck, North Dakota

Queermunity

QUEERSPACE collective

Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance

Rainbow Rose Center

Rainbow Seniors ROC, Inc

Red River Rainbow Seniors

Red River Unitarian Universalist Church - Denison

Resource Center

Ricky's Pride

Rochester Rainbow Union

Sacramento LGBT Community Center

San Diego Pride

San Francisco AIDS Foundation

San Gabriel Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Seattle's LGBTQ Center

Shenandoah LGBTQ Center

Shoals Diversity Center

Silver State Equality-Nevada

Sincecombahee Educational Consulting

SMYAL

Social Action Council, First UU Church of Austin

Solano Pride Center

SQSH (St. Louis Queer+ Support & Healing)

St. Luke's in the Meadow Episcopal Church

St. Vrain Safe Schools Coalition

Still Bisexual

Stonewall Columbus, Inc

Sussex Pride

Tennessee Equality Project

Texas Freedom Network

Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry

The California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network

The Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity

The Center on Colfax, Denver

The Center Project

The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

The LGBT Center, NYC

The LGBTQ Center (South Bend, IN)

The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert

The LOFT LGBTQ+ Community Center

The Parents' Place of MD

The Pride Center at Equality Park

The San Diego LGBT Community Center

The Source LGBT+ Center

Therapy Center of Philadelphia

Trans Advocacy Madison

Trans Maryland

Trans Resistance Action Committee

Transformation Project

Transformation Project Advocacy Network

Transgender Awareness Alliance

Transinclusive Group

TransOhio

TransSOCIAL, Inc.

Triangle Community Center

Tzedek Georgia

U.D.T.J.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Oakcliff

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County Texas

University Church

Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance (UGLA)

Veterans and Military Alliance

Washington County Gay Straight Alliance, Inc.

Waves Ahead Corp

We Are Family

Westside Unitarian Universalist Church

William Way LGBT Community Center

Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Wisconsin Public Education Network

Wyoming Equality

Youth Outlook

Youth OUTright WNC Inc

Youth Pride, Inc.

YouthSeen

Freedom Oklahoma is the state's only dedicated 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy organization, and works each day to build a future where all 2SLGBTQ+ people have the safety to thrive. You can learn more about Freedom Oklahoma at https://www.freedomoklahoma.org/.

GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love. For more information, please visit www.glaad.org or connect with GLAAD on Facebook and Twitter.

GLSEN is a multi-racial intergenerational LGBTQ+ organization working nationally and locally to transform K-12 educational systems in the United States. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach millions of students and educators via action at the national, state, and local level. Since 1990, GLSEN has improved conditions for LGBTQ+ students across the United States and helped launch a national movement to address LGBTQ+ issues in education.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 February 2024 21:30
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