TRANSCRIPT: TransLash Podcast Episode 90 ‘Trans Youth in Oklahoma’

In the wake of Nex Benedict’s tragic death, Imara examines the escalating hostility and political attacks on trans kids in Oklahoma.

First, she speaks with Oklahoma State Representative Jacob Rosecrants about keeping his trans son out of the spotlight, learning from non-binary state representative Mauree Turner, and what he’s hearing from his conservative colleagues behind closed doors.

Next, Imara’s joined by Oklahoma State University researcher and advocate, Amy McGehee, to discuss what families of trans youth are grappling with since Nex Benedict’s death and the importance of creating a sense of safety at home for gender nonconforming kids.

TRANSCRIPT: ‘Trans Youth in Oklahoma’


IMARA: Hey fam, it’s me, Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. But we’re going to have a tough conversation for many of you today. So do what you need to to take care of yourself. 

Today we’re focusing on the aftermath of Nex Benedict’s death in Oklahoma and what it’s doing to the people that live there. Of course, we know that Nex’s death did not occur in a vacuum. It occurred in a state which has created an incredibly hostile atmosphere for trans youth. 

In fact, Nex’s guardian has told the newspaper, The Independent, that the bullying at the school, which led to the tragedy, began after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill that forbids trans youth from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender. Stitt then went on to ban gender affirming care in 2023. 

And there have overall been 60 anti-trans bills that have already been introduced in the state this year. Some of them are even more draconian and harsh than those that have already been passed. So today I wanna talk with two people on the ground about what’s happened in the state since Nex’s passing and what they’re doing in Oklahoma to protect the lives and rights of trans and two-spirit kids in their state. 

First, I’ll get an inside look into the workings of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and its impact on families from state Representative Jacob Rosecrans.

JACOB: We were attacked online by a local city council member whenever I was fighting against the transgender bathroom bill for “transgendering my kid,” is what this guy said.

IMARA: Next, I’m joined by a researcher and advocate Amy McGehee, who shares what it’s like to directly support queer kids in Oklahoma and the people who love them during this trying time.

AMY: People are frightened because they know that they’re not safe. It’s not just that they’re looking for signs of safety, it’s that they are just hoping that there’s an absence of threat.

IMARA: And just a heads up, I recorded my conversation with Amy McGehee before the release of the medical examiner’s report that identified the cause of Nex’s death as suicide. The family has challenged that finding and with other investigations into Nex’s death, including that of the federal government. There may be other coroner’s reports that come in the future. 

Now these conversations around Nex Benedict’s death are not easy, but it is paramount that we don’t look away from them nor the overall attacks on trans kids. And even during these times, there’s always hope. There are always people who are shining light. So even in the midst of this very wrenching conversation around Nex, we’re going to start out as always, like we do with some trans joy. 

This is a scary time to be trans in Oklahoma, but it’s also a moment when hope and community are needed most. The Trans Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma or TACO was founded in 2023 with a goal of promoting trans visibility, activism, joy, and resilience in the state. Through their non-hierarchical and grassroots organizing strategies TACO has been standing on the front lines of city council meetings, organizing marches and holding institutions and politicians accountable. 

In the wake of Nex Benedict’s death, they’ve also found time to organize fun activities for the community, like their recent Queerly Yours Valentine’s Day Dance. I want to go to that. Here’s their co-Director of Outreach, Asher Aven to tell us more about their work.

ASHER: Our goals are always to foster joy, trans joy in whatever ways we can. Whether that’s a dance, you know, putting on a potluck. We had a Thanksgiving thing here at the Equality Center. Even when we had events like Nex Benedicts Vigil, it was hard and it was difficult. 

But the sense of community I felt at that vigil was so strong and uplifting and healing. It’s incredibly important for trans people to feel connected to their community because at the end of the day, I personally think that it helps us continue going.

IMARA: Asher, you and the Trans Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma are trans joy. 

I’m so glad to be joined by Oklahoma State Representative Jacob Rosecrans. Jacob’s journey into representing Oklahoma’s 46th District began in the classroom where he taught social studies before being elected in 2017. Since then he’s been a champion of improving the lives of children in his state. He’s authored legislation to help empower teachers to incorporate play into their lesson plans and mandate recess times for all elementary and middle schoolers. 

And amidst an onslaught of anti-trans legislation in Oklahoma, Jacob has been a vocal defender of the rights of trans kids in the state, including his own teenage son. Jacob and his son were actually featured in season one of our investigative podcast series, the Anti-Trans Hate Machine. So I’m excited to catch up with him today. 

Jacob’s tireless advocacy has earned him numerous accolades, including being named an outstanding legislator by the Oklahoma Education Association and Legislator of the Year by the Oklahoma School Psychological Association, both in 2021. Jacob, thank you so much for joining me. Again, this is the first time on the TransLash Podcast, but not the first time that we have talked. We’ve actually spent many hours speaking to each other and so I’m so glad to catch up with you today.

JACOB: Well, I’m happy to catch up with you as well. Lots happened since the last time we talked and not a whole heck of a lot. It’s really good and we’ll try to have those conversations and I’m happy to catch you up on what all’s been going on, especially I think last year was really egregious and we’ll talk about some of that as well.

IMARA: Well, let’s start in probably what is good news with your son Spencer. How is he doing? I can’t imagine what he is doing now because he is such a force of nature, putting it mildly everyone. How’s he doing?

JACOB: Spencer’s doing well. The local high school, Norman North, they’re doing a great job with him. You know, they allowed the name tag to reflect his actual name. The one thing I will say, last year, what passed there was a, I think it was two years ago now, a transgender bathroom bill. And honestly, it’s been really kind of very difficult to handle that. Just logistically, I think we forget about that sometimes. 

The fact that one of the biggest problems is that he holds in his, you know, his pee and and sometimes defecation because the bathroom that they’re supposed to go to is always full. So I, it’s something I try to bring up whenever I was debating against the bathroom bill that came through here in the Oklahoma State legislature, but of course it easily passed. But those issues, notwithstanding, he’s found his people, which I just, that’s all I really am just most excited about because he found people that love him for exactly who he is. 

And that’s huge, especially me as a former teacher and me as a parent. I know that having a good strong support group can help so much. And, and he’s found that not only with us as parents, but with his friends as well. So I think he’s doing really well. He’s a sophomore now. He’s not letting things get him down. A lot of the kind of stuff that passed through here, like the banning of gender affirming care, those types of things that really affect us. 

But he’s keeping a positive attitude about things. Although I will say one kind of negative that I’ve noticed just recently, he doesn’t want to be an activist. We kind of talked about that before where it’s just too much. He doesn’t wanna have a target on his back. And because of that fact, I think he’s struggling with that. Do you see what I’m saying? 

And, and that’s one of those things that I noticed just by knowing my own child. So it’s something we’re trying to work on. Because I want him to be very proud of who he is. But at the same time, I don’t want a target on his back either.

Read TransLash’s article about parenting trans kids.

IMARA: I think that’s a perfect place for us to start. So many times these conversations began removed or detached and I think ticking us into the impact of these laws on Spencer in terms of how he wants to use his voice. The day-to-day impact even in school, which is supportive in a, even in a family which is supportive. 

The personal impact of not even being able to go to the bathroom when you need to. These are the impacts of all of these laws. And it’s creating a toxic atmosphere that led to a tragedy. I’m wondering if you can take us into the atmosphere under the state capital, where these bills are passing and the conversation around trans people.

You know, we’ve spoken to your colleague Mauree Turner, who talks about the way in which people will say sort of blatantly transphobic things to them, the way they’re treated and committee, and that it just overall is very hostile to trans people in the place where the laws are made. And that’s clearly having an impact in the state. So can you just paint that picture for us? ’cause I think it’s really important for us to understand how these things play out.

JACOB: Yes. First of all, I’m absolutely proud to let y’all know that Representative Turner is also my seatmate. And I learned so much from Representative Turner every single day. We have totally different districts, like mine’s 10% leaning Republican and theirs is like one of the bluest in the state, but I, it doesn’t matter, we work well together. I’ve seen personally how they’re treated, how pronouns are not respected. 

And some of that comes down to just ignorance. And some of it comes down to just being mean. I try to correct people and there’s some that are like, well, thank you for letting me know and, and I’ll do this. And there some are like, well, no, that’s a she, you know, whatever else, right? And that’s just so disrespectful and that’s what Mauree has to handle every day and does so with grace and, and power. I really couldn’t have gone through all of this without kind of leaning on them to help me with my own child and some of the other things going on. 

And so I’m very, very excited to be close enough to, to Mauree that I can can learn so many things. We come from two different worlds, but it’s all really much the same. We’re all human right in the end. So I, especially last year, whew, that’s the year where, where the gender affirming care ban bill came through. And it was, I talked to my colleagues across the aisle, you know, I’ve been up here since 2017, so I can even count some of them as friends. 

And they’re still hitting the button on these things because if you talk to ’em, I’m like, I try to educate them and I’m like, Hey, this is not good for all Oklahomans. This is targeting people. This is targeting a very marginalized group of people within a marginalized group of people. And you need to not push this through the state level. Let things be at the local control level. Let’s not deal with government overreach. 

You see, I can talk like a Republican because I’ve learned how to do that, and it just goes by, you know, in one ear and out the other. There’s a lot of, like I said, ignorance that people just don’t understand about the pronouns. But the ones that do, they’re almost afraid to show anything because there’s such a super majority of one party. And that’s the GOP here that they can’t even show if they have a backbone or not. 

And that’s been one of the biggest issues because a lot of these things could have just been killed before they got rolling, you know, before they became laws on the house floor, the senate floor, and then an actual law in the state. But they’re not, now, I will say this year there’s not very much of that going on. And the only reason why I think it is, is ’cause we literally passed every hateful bill you could possibly pass. 

And that governor that we have has signed it happily. So part of me is like, glad it’s a little more peaceful here. The other part of me is like, it’s because you guys are so ridiculously backwards that you’ve already passed everything. So Oklahoma’s a very restrictive state for transgender people and we see it every day. I hear from my constituents, I hear from families, some of whom know that I have a transgender kid myself. And we don’t really focus on that. I don’t know if I told you this, Imara, we were attacked online by a local city council member whenever I was fighting against a transgender bathroom bill for transgendering my kid is what this guy said. 

He’s a troglodyte. I mean he is, listen, I work with anybody and everybody and I can get along with everybody except for this guy named Kelly Lynn and our superintendent of public instruction who puts a massive target on the backs of transgender people as well, Ryan Walters. Those two people I can’t work with. 

And actually he’s not a city council member anymore because, well, we worked and got him beat, but the fact that he did that online and everybody saw it and he kept going and going and going, it put a big old target on our backs and we’ve been a little bit more underground. 

And that’s sad because I don’t wanna do that. I want to be able to be loud and, and, and show up to, to parades, things like that. But this guy put a big target on our backs and that’s something to take into account as well.

IMARA: Did you have a sense or did you tell your colleagues, look, the things that we are passing is going to get someone hurt. And if you did do that, what did they say?

JACOB: Absolutely. I did, not even just in debate, but just conversations behind closed doors too. I’m not really a big debater. I, I like to ask my questions off the, off the floor, you know, it’s a little less performative and maybe I can get a real answer out of somebody. Even then it was mostly just like, oh, Jacob, don’t worry about this. This is just common sense. 

We’re just making sure that these children are not mutilated or anything. And I was like, yeah, but see that’s the problem. You, you’re taking a look at this the wrong way. You’re, you’re listening to the wrong people. You’re not listening to your constituents at all. Or if you are, you’re only worried about the ones who don’t understand or agree. And they try to understand and they kinda look at me like, I know that you have a child who’s transgender. 

And so I will ask questions and I’m happy to have those conversations as well. Even some people that I would say are pretty darn far right have come to me and try to understand a little bit about it because these folks think that being transgender is mentally ill. I got that out of a few of ’em and I was like, yeah, but see my kid’s not mentally ill. My kid came to me and said, dad, I’m a boy. 

And did I accept it right away? No, I had to learn, I had to have conversations. And we talked about that before about how I wasn’t the most accepting person. And with the grace of Representative Turner and others, I understand now this is my child, no matter who my child is, I love them for who they are, him for who he is. So he’d kill me if I said them. 

I’m learning still every day too. And I think that’s the thing. And I’m a former educator, so I’m trying to teach the folks up here to the best of my ability. And things like the horrible things like what happened with Nex Benedict at Owosso, hopefully somebody can learn something from that on the other side and, and quit targeting these people. 

You know, I’ve almost become libertarian and I try to get them to understand this too. Just live and let live. Just, just let…leave people alone. If you’re not gonna protect the most vulnerable, at least leave them alone, you know? And, and some people kind of understand that and they’re like, yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this from the state level. It’s like, yeah, no, not at all. It’s state level hate what you’re doing.

IMARA: What’s the first thing that went through your mind when you heard about the death of Nex Benedict?

JACOB: Well, I wanted the facts first. It’s a responsibility to be an elected official with kind of a following. And so I kind of waited for a little bit. I just wanted to kind of find out, ’cause there was a lot on both sides. You know, there was a lot that were saying, oh my gosh, you know, this child died because of the fight, whatever, blah blah blah. And then all this. 

Well then when I really dug into it, I realized bullying caused this situation. ’cause the in case people don’t know the MES report, the preliminary report says that Nex died by suicide, a mixture of drugs, I think Benadryl and Prozac. So again, we don’t have all the details there, but hey, and then I also have these weird cite far right people that are like, oh, ho ho, ho. Look at that. They didn’t die because they got beat up. 

They died because they killed themselves. I was like, that’s the same darn thing guys. You don’t understand bullying to that level to where you have to take your life as an escape is just as bad as being beat up physically. I try to have those conversations as well. They don’t land as well because again, everybody’s very, very in one camp or another. 

And I’m trying to get people to understand, hey listen, we just need to protect our most vulnerable. If we can’t do that, leave ’em alone. It’s caused me too to have a lot of anxiety just as a parent. Yeah, first time ever where I’ve had to deal with anxiety really to this level to where I was physically ill for the first couple of weeks this session. 

Mostly ’cause of what the laws are being passed in this building. You know, I wasn’t quite ready to come back and just watch more of that happen. Which is why I alluded to the fact that I’m glad there’s not so much this year.

IMARA: I think first of all, you know, that’s what the medical examiner ruled that essentially NEX killed themselves. The family is challenging that and is asking for an independent coroner report. Of course there’s a Justice Department investigation that might also lead to subsequent examinations of the body to determine the cause of death officially. 

So I think this is still in a, in a gray area, but like you said, whatever happened right Led Nex to die and that’s the most important fact here. How did you tell Spencer or did Spencer hear about it first and raise it with you?

JACOB: Well, he is 16 now, so he has access to social media and things like that. It’s so weird when you talk to Spencer, he actually hates my job as a politician. And I tried to find out why. And it was rooted in when he was actually here to watch me try to kill the bathroom bill. He was here, he was here in the gallery and we weren’t able to do it. We weren’t able to stop it. 

And he doesn’t understand the whole majority, super majority thing like that. He saw me fight for it. He was very proud of me. You know, we shed tears up here in my office, but he was like, you didn’t stop it. I was like, yeah, well that’s because we’re in a super majority and we need more people that have common sense to go out and vote. And he is like, well I’m not gonna vote.

I hate politics. I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. See now that’s the problem. You, your voice has to be heard. And that’s what I was talking about. I alluded to earlier that Spencer is just wanting to stay on the dl. He wants to be out of the spotlight completely after what that city council person did to us, which is just one of the most egregious parts of this. 

Cause I want Spencer to be very, very open and happy with who he is and I don’t feel like he can do that right now in this state. But he did know about this, but he was very nonchalant, almost flippant about it, which was very confusing to me. And I had to talk to Mauree about it. I was like, why would Spencer be that way? And we came to the realization that again, he just doesn’t want that spotlight. He almost doesn’t wanna be known as trans. 

Do you understand? Have you heard of that happening before? I hadn’t. And so I was like, oh wow, but you are who you are and you’re proud of that move forward. But then again, it’s his journey, not my journey. So I’m not trying to force anything on anybody. Something I’ve had to learn as well. Like I have my ideas what a, you know, a transgender ally should be. 

And then I have a transgender son who is who he wants to be himself. So again, always a constant learning process here. But I think deep down, it did affect him. He did say that his school does such a much better job than that school. That’s what he said. 

Those are his words. I don’t know anybody from the Owosso area, but, and then he says that bullying doesn’t really occur too much at Norman North. So I was like, great, this, this, this is good news. At least from what he’s told me.

IMARA: Yeah, sometimes denial is a useful tool for moving through life. You know, it’s not great over the long term, but short term it is. And I’m sure that Spencer’s doing whatever he needs to do actually to keep going.

JACOB: I think that’s the key. I think doing what he has to do to keep going, we even had a conversation about that where I was just confused. I was like, wait, you know, why are you hiding the fact that you’re transgender? That was my big concern. 

Cause I don’t want somebody to be like, oh, you know, that’s, that’s one of my friends, he’s a boy. And then find out and then do something horrible. And this is just probably from me growing up, watching movies and stuff like that. But I’m worried about that type of thing. And he’s just like, yeah dad, I’m just, you know, I just wanna be left alone.

I’m just, I’m just Spencer, Spencer Rosecrans boy going to high school. And I get that. But at the same time I’m just a little confused by yeah, the denial part. But again, it’s not my journey and you’re right. I think it is a way to survive afterwards.

IMARA: What did you do? What did you feel your responsibility was after you learned the facts? Of course there’s shock and grief, there were ways that people came together. What did you feel like your responsibility was in the middle of all of the aftermath?

JACOB: Again, horrified. Took me a little bit of time to get my words correct because there’s no middle ground here. But again, I, I didn’t want to put a big spotlight on me and my child. So I had to be kind of careful with how I did things and what I did. And basically I just kind of focused more on the bullying side of things, especially bullying from the state level. 

Because when we pass bills like a gender affirming care ban or anything that focuses on one marginalized group or another, that’s bullying too. That’s bullying people, that’s driving them to suicide, that’s driving them to get to, you know, physical altercations in schools, whatever else. And we have that from the very, very top. Not just, you know, the capitol, but I’m talking to our state superintendent of public instruction of our public schools. 

He never, never is quiet about it. He’s like, calls it, you know, I’m sure you’ve heard the flippant words like gender ideology or whatever it is. You know, he makes up and people listen to him and they take what he says. And I think that really contributes to some of the issues that we’re seeing. So I had to be careful, but at the same time I was gonna make sure that people understood where I was coming from on this. 

And I also want people to know that I’m a true ally and can be there for however, or whatever people need me for. I’m a safe space. That’s what I’m trying to present me. I’m a safe space. So however I can best do that.

Watch TransLash’s animated short “Seduction of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” a critical force in the anti-trans movement.

IMARA: What’s so interesting is that you clearly understand the link between the conversations that are happening in the state capitol, the laws that pass and how that creates an atmosphere in individual schools and communities across the state where kids will be harmed and or we know that this also happens harm themselves because of the environment that they’re in. This is an oppressive environment. You just have to be kinda straight up about it. There’s no other way. 

JACOB: It’s restrictive.

IMARA: At a minimum it’s restrictive.

JACOB: We’re backwards here in Oklahoma right now. We’re backwards.

IMARA: I Mean, yeah, at a minimum it’s restrictive, right? Once you deny people access to public spaces and you deny them access to healthcare, that’s kind of the fundamental building blocks of oppression. And there are so many other, you know, laws that they can pass. 

When you’ve talked to your colleagues in the wake of this, I’m wondering if you can just clarify this point and maybe leave us with a little bit of hope here. You said that some of the Republican colleagues in the wake of Nex Benedict’s death said, Hey, maybe we’re going too far. 

Do you think that that was just like a momentary regret or do you think that it really perhaps can cause a shift in the way that they are thinking long-term and the drive to just pile more and more anti-trans bills on?

JACOB: Well, the pragmatic me says it’s fleeting because I’ve been in this state long enough. I work with these folks long enough. If it becomes politically expedient then I believe they’ll probably go for it again, you gotta understand some of these people have good hearts, but their base, like if, if you show any kind of kindness or these days, even if you work with the minority party, so the Democrats, you’re looked at as a rhino.

IMARA: Rhino is Republican in name only.

JACOB: Right. And, we’re seeing a lot of that, especially with the super majority of, of what we have. There’s only 20 Democrats in the house of 101. So mostly the infighting is within the Republican party, which some of that is what’s happening here. But is it lasting? I don’t know. Is it the fact it’s an election year this year? I don’t know. 

Because you have to understand with such a large majority, not all their districts are gonna be very, very, very, very far right or red. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s kind of a mix. When you have that many, you have some suburban areas, you have some even urban areas with Republican representation and they shouldn’t be voting on these things because the majority of the people that they’re representing are more common sense honestly. 

So it’s more of a rural, urban, suburban split and a three-way kind of battle right now more than it is Republican democrat. And it’s, and it’s interesting to see that. So really an answer to your question pragmatically says we’re not outta the woods. The other part of me says hearing some of these conversations, maybe we’ll see less of these kinds of social attacks. 

Also, I think once this presidential election’s over, I think once you have somebody else besides somebody like Trump who just harps on this type of thing, out of the picture, should he lose or just not seek reelection? Oh gosh, I hope he doesn’t win. But at the same time, if that happens too, I think things would change as well because this base has grown that is very, very, very, very, very susceptible to fear mongering. 

And because of that, that’s what you see a lot. Whatever scares the electorate to get out to vote, that’s what they’re gonna focus on. And that’s my big fear. Heck, they’ve probably already moved on, is something else to scare their living crap out of people right now.

IMARA: In light of what you just said, have you been shocked by the response by some of the state officials? I believe it was the state senator who in the wake of this said, you know, we basically, we still don’t want this quote filth close quote in our state. Does that surprise you, the response by the state superintendent of schools? I mean, were you surprised?

JACOB: It doesn’t surprise me for him, although I did know Superintendent Walters before he was Superintendent Walters and he was a history teacher and he was kind of normal. So I don’t know what’s happened to him except maybe he just sees something bigger on the horizon. I’ve, I’ve heard he even wants to be Trump’s education secretary. Oh what a nightmare. 

But it did on some of the other folks, for instance, Senator Woods, he’s kind of new. I got to know him last year ’cause he is only been here for one year. Nice enough. Dude didn’t know he even felt that way, you know, I didn’t even know he felt that way. And then to double and triple down on saying, you know, we don’t want that filth in our, in our state, bro, you’re talking about people in your district and maybe not the majority. 

You’re talking about people that we all represent. You’re doing the wrong thing by doing that. And it’s kind of heartening to see the senate leadership, which is GOP, come out against that. Were they hardcore about it? No, but they were at least saying something. And that’s rare, Imara, it doesn’t happen here very often for them to kind of turn on their own. And they did basically it was like, you know, that’s, you shouldn’t be saying those types of things, if anything. 

And they kind of tie it back to Christianity, which I always try to do too. I’m like, Hey y’all read the Beatitudes. Hey, did y’all read like some of the New Testament stuff we’re supposed to treat people, all people with, with respect and love, Jesus would’ve liked that. He would not have liked for you to target people with your legislation and to call people filth and then call people filth again and then call people filth again.

Like what Peter did with denying, denying Jesus, I don’t know. Yes, we’re in a very majority Christian state, there’s no doubt about that. But if you look at what Christianity really is, it’s not what’s being presented right now, especially in his words. So I try my very hardest to speak those languages too. I’m Catholic, my dad was a Catholic priest, you know, I’m, I’m well versed, but we’re seeing little tiny things, little tiny rays of light again with the Senate leadership pushing back against that. 

That was huge. And with some of the other representatives out in the Owosso area, which is majority GOP also coming out in solidarity in their way. It’s not certainly enough if you ask me, but in their own way about the death of, of Nex Benedict and kind of bullying and and and that type of thing. So little tiny rays of hope here that I hope that turn into, you know, spotlights of hope.

IMARA: Well, spotlights of hope and the darkness is a great place for us to end this conversation. I wanna thank you for taking us through the complexity of the aftermath of Nex Benedict’s death and kind the atmosphere that created it from both a political and state administrative way and also personal way because this is about your family.

And I know that I can say on behalf of everyone listening that we thank you for all of your efforts in the state legislature to help people see us as human beings. And thank you so much for joining us today.

JACOB: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

IMARA: That was Oklahoma State representative Jacob Rosecrans. I am so grateful to be talking with Oklahoma State University doctoral student and researcher Amy McGehee. Amy is a fierce advocate for translating research into impactful policy. 

As an Albert Schweitzer fellow, she designed and implemented an evidence-based initiative providing education and support for families of gender diverse adolescents called the Transformation for Family Growth and Connection Program. As a doctoral student of human development and family science at OSU, Amy has focused her research on lgbtq plus health and social development. 

She’s been especially dedicated to advancing healthcare equity for traditionally marginalized populations, including neurodiverse and disabled communities. Amy’s commitment to public health has not gone unnoticed. She’s been quoted in the Washington Post and she’s been honored by the Oklahoma Public Health Association with an outstanding graduate student award in 2023. 

She also currently serves as the president of PFLAG Tulsa, Chairs the Oklahoma Public Health Association’s Health Equity Caucus and sits on the City of Tulsa LGBTQIA plus Committee. Amy, thank you so much for joining me.

AMY: Thank you Imara. I’m so glad to be here.

IMARA: We’re glad you’re here too. I’m wondering if you can take us to when you first heard of the death of Nex Benedict.

AMY: Yeah, I remember distinctly the morning unfortunately was quite a few days after Nex’s death. I received a text from one of my friends in the Trans Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma and she reached out and just asked me if I’d heard about Nex’s death and I said no. And she said, are you okay with hearing about child brutality this morning?

Just asking my permission because unfortunately here in Oklahoma, this is not new to us losing people in our community. And when I said that I was ready to hear, she shared with me the story of Nex’s death and a link to a news story that gave the information.

IMARA: When you read and saw what you encountered after that phone call, what were the first things that went through your mind and what went through your heart?

AMY: You know, working with families who have gender diverse, gender expansive, trans kiddos I’ve realized what’s been going on in our community for a while in Oklahoma. It is common to have hate speech from our political leaders in public office and it’s created a climate of violence and hostility towards our LGBTQ youth. And so unfortunately I was not surprised to hear this because I feel like this is policy being translated into real world experience.

IMARA: I think one of the things that strikes people who’ve seen the video and seen the response to the death is the way in which so many people in authority and so many officials representing those in public health or at school or the school board or the police, have all reacted in ways which could only charitably be described as tone deaf un charitably described as callous, willful disregard and mean spiritedness. And I’m wondering if you saw the same things and how they tie into the experiences and reality of queer youth in Oklahoma.

AMY: When something happens to a child, like what happened in Nex You know, in our heart we expect an outcry from every person that sits in a position of authority to say this is not okay, this cannot happen again. And when that does not happen, it is more than disappointing. And that is the case after Nex’s death when many of us in the LGBTQ community were devastated and thinking this can’t happen. 

And this could have been my child. The people that were in positions of authority in public office were saying things that only made the problem worse. For example, Senator Tom Woods here in Oklahoma called our community filth and said that we weren’t wanted here. And there are people, there are children listening to this and what they’re hearing is that they are not wanted in the state of Oklahoma, that they are not wanted to exist. And that is more than hurtful.

IMARA: Because you work with families and those who parent or help steward the lives of trans and gender diverse youth in Oklahoma. I’m wondering if a fear of what happened to Nex is a fear that you heard before they were murdered. 

If people fear that the hostility that they hear on the news and that they hear around them will translate to the public spaces where their children are inevitably going to have to inhabit, but in a way where those spaces may not care for them, be they a school or an afterschool program or a mall or other places that are outside the home. I mean, what did parents fear beforehand even?

AMY: People are scared. People in our community, we want to be hopeful. We do a lot of work that will hopefully provide for a better tomorrow for our children, a safer tomorrow. But right now parents are very fearful to send their kids out. Even before Nex’s death, parents that I spoke to, some of them decided to homeschool their children because they were too afraid to send them to school. 

Some of them sent their children to school and worried throughout every day that their child would be bullied. Not because they thought maybe it could happen, but because it had already happened and they were just hoping it wouldn’t happen again that day. People are frightened because they know that they’re not safe. 

It’s not just that they’re looking for signs of safety, it’s that they are just hoping that there’s an absence of threat. And unfortunately that just has not been the case.

IMARA: Right. It’s not just loose talk. I mean we know that Nex’s murder and the reality of parents that you are hearing about does not occur in a vacuum, right? That there’s been this ever growing and steady increasing assault, legislative assault. 

Let’s just be plain about it on trans youth in Oklahoma. And I’m wondering if for you, what you’ve witnessed, has that increase been accompanied by acts of violence, either self-inflicted as a result of the environment and/or external? 

Have you tracked, have you seen that as these attacks have increased over the past three years that we’ve seen also acts of violence increase as well?

AMY: Absolutely. The crisis hotlines have seen a steep increase of calls from LGBTQ youth since a lot of this legislation has begun to be passed. And I think that the numbers are somewhere that it has doubled the reports of bullying, the calls to crisis lines where the youth are saying the reason that they’re calling is because they’re being bullied or harassed at school.

And so we, that there’s been an increase. If you look at the statistics coming out of the FBI, you’ll see that hate crimes have increased, especially in states where this anti-LGBTQ, anti-trans legislation is being passed. So there are absolutely consequences. 

And in the state of Oklahoma, which I know more about than many of the other conservative states, just since you know, 2022, we have passed bills that prohibit the use of bathrooms in schools that align with the youth’s gender. We have prohibited gender affirming care. We have prohibited the participation of trans girls to participate on sports teams.

All girls in the state of Oklahoma now have to have an affidavit proving their biological sex in order to participate in a sports team. So there are dangerous things, dangerous legislation that’s happening, that is creating an environment for these kids that is absolutely not welcoming and it is extremely hostile.

IMARA: What is something that a parent and/or a trans youth has said to you which stopped you in your tracks, which was beyond kind of the normal concerns or anxiety that you might hear in this environment? What is something that either a trans youth or a parent has said to you that really shook you and was something that you hadn’t heard before?

AMY: Well, I think of a particular situation after I learned about the death of Nex Benedict. I was calling each of the parents that had participated in the Transformation Program just to check in on them and see how they were doing. And if they didn’t know the news, I figured it was better for them to hear from me than from someone else.

And I happened to call one of the participants who was in the car with their gender diverse child and had them on speaker. And once I understood that, I didn’t immediately tell them about the death of Nex because you know, I didn’t want to share news that maybe they weren’t ready to hear, but they let me know that they already knew and that their child was there and that their child had actually known Nex and that their child was doing okay because this is something that children have come to brace themselves for, they’ve come to expect. 

It’s not a shock anymore when something happens. And even the youth in our community understand what’s going on, they understand what is happening here and what can happen to them when they go to school. And that is shocking to me that we should have to come to this place where it’s not something that surprises us to the degree it should because we know what the climate is like. 

We know how dangerous it is out there and children should not have to live this way. And so I think just knowing that our youth are in that space of knowing that this is what could happen to them or their friends, it does, it shakes me to my very core

IMARA: That’s beyond disturbing. And it means that we as adults are failing. It’s our job to provide safety for youth regardless of whether or not they are our own or not. And that’s not happening. What surprised you about the response so far? 

I mean there seems to have been a dramatic positive awakening across the state in some ways to what these laws mean and parents of all backgrounds making their voice heard. But that may be just me, you know, looking for the silver lining here. 

So does that spring to mind or are you equally surprised by, you know, the outbursts by the Oklahoma State Senator who called Nex filth? I’m wondering in the wake of what’s happening, what’s really standing out for you?

AMY: You know, I can’t help but notice the response from our community and from the allies in our community. It is heartening. I do feel like that our community is resilient and we are ready to get in there and work to change the way that things are. I have not lost hope.

I know what we’re capable of. And one of the things that this type of situation does when we experience a loss like this is it does bring awareness to what is happening maybe for people who aren’t in the middle of it, who maybe don’t face these kinds of risk every day. It does bring awareness and it wakes people up to what is actually going on. 

So I do feel hopeful because of that. And I think it also highlights the resources that are available so that families who have a child who is telling them that maybe they’re a different gender than they always thought they were, that they’re able to find resources a little more easily so that even when we’re living in a state where the climate is unsafe and dangerous, that hopefully these parents who are becoming aware of resources can start the work to create a safe home. 

So at least when their child is at home, they can look across the table and see an adult who looks them in the eye and says, I am so glad you were my child. I love who you are because these cues of safety are the most important and impactful things that we can possibly do.

IMARA: I’m sure that you received calls from people who are shocked and outraged at what happened, who said, Amy, what can I do? And what did you, or do you say to those people?

AMY: We’re in a space where a lot of the people who are working to improve the environment are getting tired and you know, it’s important that we take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do this work. Also, I say, you know, find community, you’re not alone. There is community.

You just need to look for it. And so we have several organizations here in the Tulsa area, of course, where Nex lived was just outside of Tulsa in a suburb about 15 minutes away. So we’re right in the heart of everything that’s happening here. And we have the Trans Advocacy Coalition of Oklahoma, which is a very active organization here in Tulsa. 

And you know, working throughout Oklahoma, we have PFLAG Tulsa that is just relaunched here as a result of the Transformation Program. Seeing through that program that a six week program wasn’t enough.

That parents and allies and the LGBTQ community itself needs an organization where they can meet and talk and have support and education. So there are people around you that are willing to walk this path with you. That is what I’m telling people who reach out and want to know what they can do or want to know what help is available to them.

IMARA: Lastly, as a person whose life is dedicated to understanding human development and families and kids and to develop programs that support queer and trans youth, I’m wondering what you would say to the lawmakers who are voting for these bills.

If they allowed you to go to the state capitol and you could be in a private room with them and that door closed, what would you look and tell them about the impact of what they’re doing?

AMY: I think first of all, I would tell them that all is not lost. That we have common ground and they just need to look in their heart and realize that all children should be safe and that they need to stop playing political games and work towards policies that keep our children safe, all of our children. 

And that they need to stay out of the business of legislating healthcare providers and parents and trust them to make the right decisions on medical care for their children. And that they need to make resources for LGBTQ youth more available, not less available, creating barriers to care, whether it be mental health care or medical care. 

It always has negative consequences and causes harm to these children. So we need to stop playing political games and start caring about the children and creating policy that supports families and supports the youth and supports children to grow and live and explore and be able to pursue their own happiness and explore their own identity and to feel safe doing that.

IMARA: But to be honest, they’re already hearing that from their colleagues. I mean, they’re already hearing that from Mauree Turner. They’re already hearing that from Jacob Rosecrans.

So I’m wondering, not in terms of thinking about them as policy or political leaders, but as human beings and with your expert on what this lack of safety as you’ve described it and as the reality that impact on kids. Because what they say is we’re protecting kids and we are actually helping to keep them out of danger. 

And as an expert, I’m wondering what you would say about that. What do you say about the individual impact of this on the lives of youth and their future lives as human beings?

AMY: Yeah, I mean, if we just look at the research and really just use common sense, it’s easy to see that children need to be loved and supported and they need to feel safe. These are basic human needs and a child cannot develop and grow unless they are provided that environment.

 And so we need to create that space for these children because what we see is when they don’t have that safe space, that they are much more likely to think about suicide and even take their own lives. They’re much more likely to be depressed and to have anxiety. 

They are much more likely to be homeless. And so we can do something to impact these things. We know that we can whenever we provide these children with a safe environment and that starts at home and moves out from there.

IMARA: Yeah, I mean, I wish they would just think about times in their lives when they were a kid or a young person and weren’t supported and the impact that that had on them and apply that to people who are different from them because they have those same feelings.

AMY: Absolutely. And I think especially like I grew up in rural Oklahoma as queer kid that didn’t have the space to explore my identity and you know, was surrounded by an ideology that didn’t allow for that and it didn’t feel safe to do that, and it made things much more challenging than they should have been. 

And so, you know, I just hope that we can create a better Oklahoma one that allows all kids to feel safe and allows them to develop in a healthy way and to feel supported and loved and accepted.

Read TransLash’s article “The Burden Of Trans Grief: Finding Solace Through Spite.”

IMARA: Absolutely. Well, Amy McGehee, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for your work at an incredibly hard time. Even though you are a trained professional, I can’t imagine what it is like to have been in the middle of this storm to continue to be in the middle of this storm, to have your phone ring at all hours of the night with any number of crises, but every day you’re still getting up and helping people get through this. So thank you so much.

AMY: Thank you, Imara.

IMARA: That was Oklahoma based researcher and family and youth advocate Amy McGehee. Thank you for joining me on the TransLash Podcast. Now listen all the way to the end of this show for something extra. If you like what you heard, please go to Apple Podcast to rate and review us. You can listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcast. 

Check us out on the web at to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Follow us on Instagram at TransLashmedia, like us on Facebook, and tell your friends. The TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash Media. 

The TransLash team includes Oliver-Ash Klein and Aubrey Calloway. Xander Adams is our senior sound engineer and a contributing producer. Alex Guerra is our social media producer and digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK records. 

The TransLash Podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and listeners like you. This week I am looking forward to spring. I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers emerge, the buds on the trees, the longer days, people going outside more. 

It is a reminder that renewal is a constant just as trying times are, just as everything that we spoke about in this show is a reality, but it is also a reality that rejuvenation, renewal and beauty are also parts of life. So I’m so glad that the trees near my apartment are going to start unfolding again so that I can’t see everything going on in my neighbor’s apartments. Sometimes it’s entertaining and just generally being out and about during spring.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.



TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.


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