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Justice For Nex Benedict: Build A Mass Movement Against Transphobia & The Right Wing!

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Nex Benedict, a non-binary 16-year-old high school student from Oklahoma, died earlier this month after they and another transgender student were attacked in a women’s bathroom by three older students. Far from being an isolated incident, this altercation was part of a pattern of escalating anti-trans bullying over the course of the school year that Nex and others had been the victims of. 

Nex’s tragic death was not just an unfortunate result of violent bullying taken to the extreme. The transphobic attacks and bullying were a direct result of Oklahoma’s right-wing, anti-trans bathroom bill, which was signed into law last May, forcing all students to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. Students reported an increase in bullying when that law went into effect at the beginning of this school year. This violent tragedy is the result of a concerted and organized effort by the right-wing to, through hateful propaganda and legal attacks, force trans people to retreat from public life and to roll back many of the progressive gains won by the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

How Could This Happen?

The right wing was emboldened by the example of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which severely limits conversations about gender and sexuality in schools, passed in 2022. Governor Stitt of Oklahoma has said that he’s “taking a stand against this out-of-control gender ideology that is eroding the very foundation of our society,” and “safeguarding the very essence of what it means to be a woman.” Stitt, and other Republicans, believe that attacks on trans youth are a “winning issue”, despite polls showing that the majority of Americans think that these attacks are a “major problem.” In fact, only 1% said that trans people were the “most important issue facing the country”, and 57% think that attacks on families of trans children are “a major problem.” 

This school year, a record 30 bills targeting trans youth went into effect. Oklahoma is one of 11 states with an active law restricting bathroom access for trans people. In addition, Governor Stitt has signed legislation that severely cuts back access to gender affirming care, bans non-binary markers on birth certificates and official documents, and prevents trans athletes from competing in all K-12 school sports. Since the start of 2024, nearly 500 bills have been proposed in 41 states, increasingly targeting trans youth in public schools. Much of this legislation, modeled after Florida’s legislation, would ban all discussions about gender and sexuality in the classroom and ban the use of preferred names and pronouns at school without the consent of the parents.

The right-wing has focused on culture-war issues like attacking LGBTQ+ youth and “protecting” our schools from “gender ideology” because they have nothing concrete to address the real problems in the lives of working and young people. They have no plan for delivering the transformative change that we desperately need: things like massive increase of the federal minimum wage, affordable housing and rent control, Medicare for All, student debt forgiveness and free public college, just to name a few. 

The only thing right-wing politicians like Kevin Stitt, Ron DeSantis, and even Donald Trump can do to distract from this is to offer a boogeyman to be scapegoated as the “real” enemy of working people. Sometimes they drum up fear that trans people are grooming kids with gender ideology, sometimes they say undocumented immigrants are some new kind of Hanibal Lecter-ish super criminal. The purpose of all this is to distract from the real issues that unite all working-class people, like the fact that wages have been stagnant for decades or the current cost of living crisis. Nevertheless, these attacks pose a real and serious threat because in the absence of a genuine left alternative willing to fight unapologetically both against oppression and for transformative working-class demands, they often go unanswered and are allowed to take root and fester. These attacks from the right wing can too often yield deadly results, and Nex and their family and friends are now paying the price for these hateful laws and rhetoric. 

How Can We Fight Back Against Right-Wing Transphobia?

The Democratic Party is at war with itself over how to address attacks against LGBTQ+ youth. Establishment politicians like Biden and Pelosi have taken minimal, often symbolic, action. Last year, Biden said that policies in Florida that target trans youth were merely “close to sinful.” Some politicians, like Zooey Zephyr in Montana and Megan Hunt in Nebraska, have attempted to prevent legislation from passing at the state level, but haven’t received much support from the party establishment. At the national level, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has loudly combated proposals in the House, she hasn’t taken any concrete steps to organize protests, walkouts, or build any kind of movement to fight back.

Movements against oppression have often been co-opted into “vote blue” campaigns for the Democratic Party, resulting in the failure to win anything in the way of concrete gains. The Democratic Party politicians elected on these waves of anti-establishment discontent didn’t follow through on the demands of the movement, leading people who spent their time protesting wanting for lasting change. 

Mass protests, walkouts, and even strike action by workers and students have the potential to create a tremendous amount of pressure on politicians to meet the demands of anti-oppression movements. However, all of these actions would need to disrupt business as usual and the normal flow of profits to the billionaires who benefit from the status quo and fund both the Democratic and Republican Parties. While Democratic politicians can be forced to support movement demands under extreme duress, the Democratic Party is an instrument of the wealthiest in society, not working people or the oppressed.

This is one of the main reasons why our movements against oppression need to break with the Democratic Party and focus on leveraging the power of the working class when making our demands, including building a new party that will actually fight for working people and against oppression. 

We should absolutely take bold and decisive action to fight every form of oppression under capitalism, which relies on divide and rule ideologies like queerphobia, sexism, and racism. However, in order to build a world that is truly free of these, we need a socialist transformation of society that does away with capitalism’s brutal methods of exploitation and oppression. In the immediate, we need walkouts and mass protests to reawaken the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Through building politically independent anti-oppression movements that are linked up with the broader labor movement’s inherent power, the workers and young people of today can make bold strides toward creating a more just society for workers and young people.

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