The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Crowds on Cypress Field mourn the loss of Nex Benedict

A vigil for Nex Benedict, an Indigenous and non-binary teenager, was held on Mar. 6 from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. on Cypress Field. Benedict died after being attacked in their school bathroom. Through speeches, students expressed their sadness around Benedicts’ death and reflected on their community.

No rain nor cold could dim the flames of the candle-lit vigil organized by student leaders in memory of 16-year-old Nex Benedict on Wednesday, Mar. 6 from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. on Cypress Field.

The event came in response to the recent Feb. 8 death of Benedict. Benedict, an Indigenous, non-binary sophomore at Owasso High School in Owasso, Okla. who used he/they pronouns, was physically assaulted in a bathroom by three of his peers on Feb. 7, sustaining serious head injuries. After being discharged from a hospital, he collapsed in his home and was reported dead the following day.

The event was organized by freshmen Quinn Silva and Quinn Friedman; sophomores Echo Kaufman, Lil Kuklewicz and Noa, a student who wished to go only by their first name for safety concerns; senior Julian Rodriguez-Velez; and others. Approximately 60 people, including Head of School Anthony Meyer and Superintendent Dr. Linus Guillory, attended the event. This number was approximated by social studies teacher and Queer Student Program (QSP) adviser Stephen Eesley, who, alongside social studies teacher and QSP adviser Kate Leslie, provided logistical support to the student organizers.

Kaufman spoke first, thanking the crowd for attending. Addressing allies of the trans and genderqueer community, Kaufman urged the need for more direct action instead of complacency.

“This is when we need you to step up. Our community is in mourning, and our community is scared, and I can’t help wondering who’s next. How many of us have to die? How many of us have to kill ourselves? How many of us before you start to listen?” Kaufman said. “We shouldn’t be here.”

Friedman was the second speaker and spoke at length about how the news of Benedict’s death scared and angered him.

“I kept thinking, why isn’t this being talked about? Anyone I tried to talk to about Nex had no idea who they were or what happened to them,” Friedman said. “Not talking about it makes us feel so alone.”

Later on, Silva made a speech asking audience members to raise their hands if they had personally seen or experienced at least minor homophobia or transphobia. They highlighted the hypocrisy behind calling the high school a safe space for queer students.

“I know which classes I can bring a water bottle that says ‘gay panic’ on it. I know which teacher I would go to if something were to happen because I need to know who’s actually a safe space and not just going to ignore it or walk away. I just want to scream, ‘How can we call our school a safe place if it is only safe by its rules, not its culture,’” Silva said.

Noa made a speech after, in which they cited various statistics on queer mental health and suicide rates, highlighting Benedict’s Indigenous identity and the difficulties trans youth of color face.

“As a trans person of color, it’s important to recognize the way suicide and depression rates skyrocket, even compared to the already high rate in the queer community,” Noa said.

Lil Kuklewicz said that although Brookline is a progressive place, work must be done to ensure queer youth feel safe at the high school.

“We have rainbow flags around the building, but I cannot avoid being called slurs while walking to math class,” Lil Kuklewicz said. “I am so grateful to live in a community where I don’t have to be afraid of dying after being attacked in a school bathroom. And I want every community, including ours, to do better.”

Following the speeches, the five speakers walked around to attendees and lit the vigil candles. A moment of silence was held for Benedict, and then Kaufman opened up the floor for attendees to speak. Many voiced frustrations with the school administration, particularly over the closures of gender-neutral restrooms and the distribution of ID cards with dead names printed on them. Many who spoke also cited the need for hope and action during difficult times.

Andrew Kuklewicz, father of Lil Kuklewicz, said he felt proud of his child yet also feared for their safety.

“I grew up in Texas. I went to a school and grew up in a place where Lil would not be safe. I worry whenever I think about taking Lil to come home and visit my parents there, if that would be safe for them to go back there. And things like this even more so,” Andrew Kuklewicz said. “When something happens to another queer youth like what happened to Nex, it brings all that home.”

Andrew Kuklewicz said he hoped administrators were listening to the students’ pain, concerns and criticisms.

For his part, Meyer, who was present at the event up until the open mic portion, said that the Head of School’s Secretary Kelli McDermott would be working with Leslie to ensure ID cards had the right names printed on them. Moreover, he wanted to make gender-neutral bathrooms more accessible for trans/gender-queer students.

Leslie said she hoped the school would act on calls for action, but that only time would tell.

“I think it’s going to take not just the queer and trans and non-binary community complaining and pushing for change; I think we need more straight allies to really stand up and say, ‘We do not have yet the school that we believe in,’” Leslie said. “I think the more and more people who are fed up, the quicker change will come.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All comments are reviewed by Cypress staff before being published. To read our complete policy, see our policies underneath the About tab.
All The Cypress Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *