From water to death. There were witnesses, it was in a public space, in a place where adults and persons of authority were present and yet, what we have is from water to death.
This was a kiddo who was being bullied...in school.
Nex reacted to harassment by throwing water, not punches. Water, not weapons. Water, not abusive, phobic/hate-filled language. And the price of water, was their death.
It's shocking to see how this teen, who was living in a "right-to-life" country, did not, as it turns out, have a right to live. What is shameful is how Nex continues to bear the brunt of blame: "the department has since said Benedict’s death was not a result of injuries suffered in the fight, based on the preliminary results of the autopsy," "Sue Benedict, said she wanted authorities to file charges. The officer who responded can be heard in the hospital video explaining that the teen started the altercation by throwing the water and the court would view it as a mutual fight."
Water. And now death. We are kinder to people on death row than a non-binary child who was being bullied and is now dead. Nex's crime: being an alive LGBTQ+ teen among a world of politicians, legislators, and authority figures who will never feel the impact of this kind of hatred as they continue to pass and enforce the very laws that give a green light to violence, hatred, and discrimination against people who....simply have a right to live.
Learn how to protect yourself in a positive and safe environment with a queer instructor. Classes are every Friday evening @ 6:00 pm and cost $10.00. Private group instruction is also an option. For more information, class location, and what to expect, contact Jacob by text/voice: 865-469-6614.
I have been an activist working for social justice since I was like 15 or so and have always been at the least an ally to the LGBTQ community. It wasn't until 2017 that I realized that I was a part of that community and then came out publicly as a Transgender Woman in 2020. Since then, I've been trying to be more active with Knox Pride and the job that I have now through the YWCA, really allows me to do some good there.
As a baseline for my position as the LGBTQ+ Advocate at the YWCA of Knoxville, I provide a support group, domestic victim services, and resource coordination. Along with this I have been working towards opening an emergency shelter and transitional housing facility designed for and run by the queer community. This shelter would be a one of a kind location in our area that could guarantee safe shelter for LGBTQ+ individuals. It is still in the early planning stages, but I'm hoping to get the project started as soon as possible. Along with this, I provide community awareness education training and a weekly support group for those who have lived through or are living through hatred and abuse just for being queer.
When I was young, there was a wonderful, kind hippie that lived a few houses down from me. She taught me about art, activism, and what it means to be compassionate to strangers. She was a friend to everyone, even if they weren't kind to her. As for today, I find myself in such awe of the work that both John B. Camp of Knox Pride and Joslynn Fish of South Press Coffee Shop do for our community here. They constantly give more than they have and do what they can to ensure that everyone feels safe and cared for.
It was a slow coming out initially, mostly at home around the start of Covid so that made it easier. I was able to be at home and be myself in private for a while until the world started to open back up again. The hardest part though was coming out to my parents, which honestly I didn't do until last year. They live about 8 hours away and I rarely see them so it felt easier to not tell them for a while. With their religious beliefs I was terrified to tell them so I ended up sending them a letter. It was hard for them and it still is a point of contention that further strained my relationship with them, but I suppose they are trying.
My advice for other LGBTQ+ people who want to make a difference, honestly? Just show up! Advocacy doesn't require money. Some people can do that and it's great, but if we don't have people on the streets doing the work with those funds, it's a waste!
The advice I have for our community is to keep conversations open and on-going! I was so worried how my wife would handle me coming out to her, but because we took it slow and talked constantly we’ve actually grown stronger as a couple. I checked in with her often about her comfort and she helped me with my confidence and together we navigated the start of my transition. Coming out IS your journey, but if you care about someone enough you need to go at a pace that they can keep up with.
A change I think needs to happen for our LGBTQ+ communities in Tennessee is with getting this shelter opened; I feel would be a huge change for the better. Knowing that if you are in a bad situation you do have somewhere to go is huge.
I think what everyone really needs to stop and think about is why we still need pride events and pride based organizations. This concept isn’t exclusive to LGBTQ+ issues either. All minoritized populations need these times of coming together to celebrate their culture, existence, and stories. The events and groups show the world that this group does exist and in larger numbers than some people may think. Minorities are not what that word relates to anymore and society needs to see this. This is why I used the word minoritized earlier, I feel this idea of being made into an outside or smaller percentage of the population dehumanizes us and makes us easy targets for certain “news” outlets or other positions of power that seek to use societal fracturing as a means of take or keeping control. Historically, othering is one of the most effective scapegoating tactics to distract a population from the real concerns or shady dealings of those in power. Being able to have organizations that focus on giving back to communities, like the work the Knox Pride does among other East Tennessee Pride Orgs, allows us to show people on a ground level that we are not what this othering rhetoric tries to say we are. The only real difference between us and them is superficial.
My first foray into the world of activism was a small protest against the Iraq War back in 2002. Since I grew up in the D.C. Metropolitan area, I was surrounded by the presence of political groups, government workers, and the like seeing protests and rallies was not uncommon for me. I had teachers who were former government employees, for example my High School Government and Politics teacher was a former US Senate Page. Through their influence and having been raised on the music of Woodstock, it only felt right that I wanted to make a statement. In the area post 9/11 nationalism was at fevered pitch and I thought that the best way to make a civil disobedient statement was to go against the grain and refuse to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance every morning at the start of the school day. While this may seem innocuous in retrospect, at the time it was exactly the statement I wanted to send. After a week of this I was called into the Principal’s Office to discuss this “disruption” and I remember saying something along the lines of “I reserve my right that free speech relates to choosing to not speak and refuse to pledge myself to a country whose actions I don’t agree with.” After this several of my friends began doing it as well and from that moment on through the rest of my High School career, I never said the pledge again. By the time I graduated, there were several dozen of us across all grade levels that were remaining seated and not reciting the pledge of allegiance. From there I got involved with other groups and started attending rallies in the DC area and other places I lived afterwards.
We can help the community by being active, educating, and most of all remembering that if we fight hate with hate, things only get worse. I am a firm believer in civil disobedience as a method of protest. In places like Florida where you “can’t say gay,” say it! In our local communities, be willing to use loopholes in the system, that are often used against minoritized communities, to your advantage to work the system in their favor instead. If you are not a community member, remember to practice good allyship and have your privileges open doors to those who don’t have them so they can be heard.
One thing that comes to mind regarding the falsehoods being perpetuated about our community immediately, is that LGBTQ+ people want to turn the world “Gay”. That there is some secret “gay agenda” to upend society. In my experiences this couldn’t be further from the truth. Speaking for myself and those that work close to me here in Knoxville, I can say that all we want is a world where being gay, transgender, whatever shade of the rainbow you fall under isn’t a negative thing. Where people can learn and explore themselves as a person to truly understand who they are in every way freely and without judgements. And as for that “gay agenda” , well to be honest, if we do have a plot like this, it's simple: to be able to live a normal life as ourselves.
There needs to be a shift in education and awareness in civil structures, so more people in power are aware and compassionate to the issues our community faces.
I think compassion is stronger than people think. When we take time to connect and understand each other, that sense of understanding and meeting people where they are as opposed to expecting them to meet our level, allows us to come together and find an equal footing. Without being able to do this, we risk being a fractured community that is prone to infighting and burned bridges.
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