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‘How many more?’: Candlelight vigil honors LGBTQ+ hate crime victims

Matthew Brown
In memory of Nex Benedict, a non-binary teen who died in February, participants of the KSURGE Candlelight Vigil hold candles and observe a moment of silence on March 21, 2024.

LGBTQ+ students and allies gathered Thursday at the rock on Hilltop Drive for a candlelight vigil honoring Oklahoma nonbinary teen Nex Benedict, who died last month one day after a school fight.

Kent State Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (KSURGE) organized the event to memorialize Benedict and other trans and nonbinary students who died this year. With candles in hand, students voiced their outrage over the increase in hate crimes against the queer community, held a moment of silence and spray-painted “trans rights equal human rights” on the rock.

Riley Hudson, a junior communication studies major and president of KSURGE, said she wanted the vigil to serve as a metaphor for shining a light on those who lost their lives due to anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

“Here today, we just want to be able to curate a space of full inclusivity and for people to share their stories and their experiences and just know that there are people on campus that support the trans, LGBTQ+ and nonbinary community,” Hudson said.

During a fight with a group of students in their school bathroom, Benedict suffered multiple injuries to their head, neck and torso. Benedict’s death was ruled a suicide by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office, but advocates and family members remain skeptical over the facts of the summary autopsy report, which said they died after ingesting two different medications. 

“At the basis of all of this, it’s simply just a human-rights issue, and they were killed,” Hudson said. “The autopsy report came out that they didn’t die directly from the head injury and trauma. However, we believe there is still a correlation because of the transphobia and because of the hate and bullying they received.”

Benedict, who died at age 16, was frequently targeted by bullies at their high school for nearly a year because of their gender identity, according to family members. The bullying began in 2022, after Oklahoma’s governor signed a bill banning trans and nonbinary youth from using restrooms aligning with their gender identity, according to a report from The Independent

Ohio House Bill 183, a similar bill aimed at bathrooms in primary and secondary schools and higher education, is currently in House committee.

“I don’t understand why this is an issue right now and why anyone would see that it’s an issue, because it’s just nonbinary and trans individuals who are living their lives and who are existing as humans,” Hudson said. “Policymakers choose to not introduce just one but multiple different bills that harm these individuals, and my reaction is just incredibly frustrated but not surprised.”

Sohaela Rojas, a junior fashion merchandising major and vice president of KSURGE, said the growing amount of violence and legislation aimed at the queer community makes holding events to spread awareness even more important. The Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD reported at least 356 anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremist incidents occurred in the United States between June 2022 and April 2023.

“I’m a very action-based person, so I feel with this kind of thing, just raising hell and making people listen to what we have to say and elevating these voices, makes sure they’re heard,” Rojas said, “whether that’s in the form of rallies or protesting, I am always for that.”

Second-year public health major Harley Hill spray paints the Kent State Rock with the transgender flag during the KSURGE Candlelight Vigil on March 21, 2024. (Elizabeth Soehnlen)

Before the rock was painted in blue and pink, symbolizing the transgender flag, Harley Hill, a second-year public health major who is nonbinary, read a speech expressing their anger over the death of Benedict and other LGBTQ+ lives.

“Where were we, all of us, when we were 16?,” Hill said. “Me, I was 16 three years ago and just starting to figure out that I’m nonbinary. Unlike Nex, I got to survive high school.”

Hill said cisgender children are taught by political leaders that trans and gender nonconforming people don’t belong, which Hill said puts a target on the backs of LGBTQ+ people.

“How many more times must we tell you that our lives are important and that we matter?” Hill said. “How many more deaths on your hands before you change your ways and stop killing us? How many more?”

Aden Graves is an opinion editor. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Aden Graves, Co-Opinion Editor and Reporter
Aden is a junior majoring in journalism and communication studies and is co-opinion editor and a class reporter. This is his second year working for KentWired, and he has served as social media assistant, general assignment reporter, opinion writer and digital tech. He enjoys writing about the arts, entertainment and current issues.
Matthew Brown, Photo Editor
Matthew is a junior photography major. He has a passion for photography and traveling. Contact him at [email protected].

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