Oklahoma LGBTQ Groups Demand Removal Of Top Schools Official After Nonbinary Student's Death

More than 300 organizations claim Ryan Walters is “responsible for fostering a culture of violence and hate against the 2SLGBTQI+ community in Oklahoma schools.”

A group of Oklahoma LGBTQ and advocacy organizations is calling for the removal of the state’s top education official, following the death of a nonbinary student earlier this month.

In a letter penned to the state’s legislature on Wednesday, more than 300 advocacy and LGBTQ organizations, including Freedom Oklahoma, GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, alleged that Ryan Walters, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, is “responsible for fostering a culture of violence and hate against the 2SLGBTQI+ community in Oklahoma schools.”

They argued that Walters created a hostile environment at Oklahoma schools which contributed to the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict, who was assaulted in a school bathroom earlier this month.

Benedict had been bullied since last year, the Independent reported, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed a law requiring students to use bathrooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificate.

“Superintendent Walters’ reprehensible conduct shows a willful rejection of his duty to protect the health and welfare of the children in Oklahoma’s public schools and instead has created an environment that allows for hostility and harm for youth like Nex,” the letter stated.

“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.”

Walters has faced calls for his ouster before. Last month, he faced backlash for passing an emergency rule to bar students from changing the gender marker listed on their school files. He also appointed Chaya Raichik, the creator of the far-right social media account Libs of TikTok, to a seat on Oklahoma’s library review committee earlier this year.

Last year, Libs of TiKTok made a post targeting a librarian at an Oklahoma school, NBC News reported. The school district received bomb threats a day after Walters retweeted the Libs of TikTok post, prompting Oklahoma Democrats to push for an impeachment probe of the superintendent.

Walters has also been scrutinized for his campaign’s affiliation with Ron “The Real Ron Ron” Causby, a far-right podcaster who has called for violence against transgender people. Walters reportedly participated in a fundraiser event at the influencer’s residence in 2022, according to Media Matters.

In a statement sent to HuffPost, Walters dismissed the organizations’ recent call for his removal as a “standard tactic of the radical left” that will “stop at nothing to destroy the country and our state.”

“Their woke desperate political game has led them to exploit the death of a young Oklahoman,” Walters said. “I will never stop fighting, I will not play woke gender games, and I will not back down to a woke mob.”

Since Benedict’s death, other young people have come forward about the harassment faced by LGBTQ students in Oklahoma, the letter claims. LGBTQ youth mental health organizations have also reported a major increase in crisis calls since the incident, with many callers citing instances of bullying and harassment, the Advocate reported.

So far this year, Oklahoma has introduced 54 anti-LGBTQ bills, according to the ACLU, including bans on gender-affirming care and restrictions on what pronouns teachers can use for their students.

Nearly 469 of these bills have been introduced by states nationwide this year, which follows the more than 500 bills introduced in 2023 — a number that led the Human Rights Campaign to declare a state of emergency for LGBTQ Americans.

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