When Fossil Fuels Fund LGBTQ+ Attacks

The death of non-binary teen Nex Benedict in Oklahoma underscores the insidious ways fossil fuel dollars fund anti-LGBTQ+ policy.

When Fossil Fuels Fund LGBTQ+ Attacks
Photograph by Em Monforte for The Washington Post

LISTENING: to Beyoncé's voice: "heaven couldn't wait for you" 🕊️
FEELING: heartbroken
SEEING: my friend's sweet shiba pant at my feet

Nex Benedict was 16 years old. They loved a few things: their cat, AMC's "The Walking Dead," and drawing. This is all according to the obituary their family wrote. Benedict died on Feb. 8, 2024. Their family alleges that their death was a direct result of their student peers bullying and, ultimately, attacking the 10th grader in a school bathroom in Owasso, Oklahoma. The local police department is awaiting an autopsy to confirm what killed them.

Across the U.S., right-wing lawmakers have waged war against LGBTQ+ youth. In Oklahoma, in particular, the governor signed a "bathroom bill" in 2022 that forces public school students to use bathrooms that align with the gender they were assigned at birth. Indeed, Benedict was in a girls' bathroom when their classmates attacked them. Maybe they'd be alive today if their school had invested in an all-gender restroom where Benedict could be safe.

As The Washington Post has pointed out, Oklahoma has seen the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced this legislative session than any other state. This crisis that the LGBTQ+ community — especially its youth — faces is directly linked to climate justice. Imagine a world where teenagers are free to be who they are — a world where legislators focus on policing polluters rather than bodies.

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I'm Yessenia Funes, and there's no climate justice in a world where so much hate thrives.

Oklahoma is a big fossil fuel state. In 2022, the state produced 152 million barrels of crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Gov. Kevin Stitt is also pals with the fossil fuel industry. Oil and gas was the most prominent industry donor to his 2022 campaign. Stitt received $181,255 from oil and gas in 2022 — more than double what the next donor, commercial banks, spent on his campaign. Maybe the bank donors have to do with the state's boycott on banks that aren't friendly to oil and gas? Sigh.

So while the fossil fuel industry has funded Stitt's politics, he's doubling down on the type of legislation and policy that is actively harming and killing LGBTQ+ people. That's not something the climate movement should ignore. That's something that needs more attention. How many other transphobic and violent governors are similarly propped up by the same industry setting the planet on fire?

The connection between LGBTQ+ rights and climate justice is an issue I've been passionate about for a couple of years now. I wrote this story for Atmos in 2022 to address these concerns in Florida. River Petley, a young trans man I spoke to for that story, told me this: "There is no coincidence that the same people who have no respect for LGBT rights also don't have respect for the environment."

Indeed, it is no coincidence. Editors, pay me to investigate this! Readers, tell your friends to subscribe to this newsletter so I can fund my own investigation!

Seriously!! Someone needs to dig into this. Real lives are at risk. Nex Benedict is only the latest casualty. How many other queer, non-binary, and/or trans youth have faced these attacks? How many other lives are holding on by a thread? How will the climate movement show up for them? 🌀

Donate to the family's GoFundMe for Nex Benedict here.

Rest in Power

While we can't say for certain that climate change led to these specific weather events (we need attribution studies for that), we do know that the Earth's rising temperatures are already creating more disasters like these.

I'm not finding anything this week. Thank goodness.

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