Montreal vigil mourns the death of trans teen Nex Benedict

After the 16-year-old died following an attack at school, the Montreal community gathered to grieve and advocate for the protection of trans youth.

Trigger warning: transphobia, transicide.

“I have a question for Nex’s killers: how many more do you want to take? […] When will you stop treating trans lives as disposable? When will you stop treating Indigenous and Two-Spirit lives as disposable?” Trans-activist Celeste Trianon proclaimed to the crowd, “You’ve already got so much blood on your hands; they can’t get any redder.” 

On March 1, over 100 people gathered in Montreal’s Cabot Square to commemorate the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict, an Indigenous non-binary youth from Oklahoma. 

One month ago, on Feb. 7, Benedict was attacked and beaten by three girls in the washroom of Owasso High School in Oklahoma. On the day of the attack, Benedict was taken to the hospital by their mom, Sue Benedict, and sent home after assessment. The following day, they collapsed at home and were rushed to the hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

After a thorough investigation, the police ruled Benedict’s death as a suicide on March 13.

A number of vigils memorializing their passing have been held across Canada and the United States. Montreal’s vigil was organized by Atreyu Lewis and Rising from Our Roots, an anti-oppression community organization that provides funds and resources.

Despite the incident taking place outside of Canada, organizers of the event made it clear that Benedict’s death has an impact on Indigenous and queer communities worldwide. “I think it’s really important because we want to establish transnational solidarity with what is happening in the U.S.,” Lewis said.

“I think a lot of trans LGBTQ+ people in Canada really want to […] have that tangible action. Especially since it can be hard to do it on the ground [in the U.S.] because of all of the policies.”

Candles were laid out alongside the cement surrounding the signs honouring Nex Benedict. Courtesy photo by Youssef Baati / The Concordian

On social media, they emphasized the vigil aimed to hold space for BIPOC LGBTQ+ people in Montreal as well as to commemorate and grieve the death of their non-binary Chahta peer.

Attendees were encouraged to bring candles, lights, flowers, and sacred items. The vigil included a smudging ceremony; an Indigenous practice in which herbs and resins are burned to purify the mind, body, and spirit.

Since Benedict’s death became public, school officials in the district have faced extreme backlash. Oklahoma’s superintendent for public schools, Ryan Walter, has been adamant in his anti-transgender stance since being appointed to his role in 2022. Later that year, Oklahoma became the first state in the U.S. to prohibit the use of non-binary gender markers on birth certificates. 

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a federal investigation into the Oklahoma school district after the Human Rights Campaign filed a complaint.

Benedict’s loved ones reported that Benedict had been experiencing bullying for more than a year leading up to the incident. Their death has renewed the fight against the growing number of anti-trans bills in the U.S., which many queer advocates say played a vital hand in the teen’s death.

Lewis explained that attending protests, advocating for trans rights in policy, and ensuring spaces are accessible and diverse are ways to help protect trans-BIPOC folks. “Learn about the trans and queer people in your life and show up to support them,” they said. Lewis also mentioned Project 10 Montreal, which is a nonprofit community organization that supports 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.


Cinema Politica: Our Bodies are your Battlefields

The documentary Our Bodies are your Battlefields, screened by Cinema Politica, shows the lives of trans women in Argentina fighting for their rights and to be accepted

Image from the official trailer for “Our Bodies are Your Battlefields”

Cinema Politica screened the premiere of the documentary Our Bodies are your Battlefields on Monday, March 6 in the atrium of the Hall Building. Cinema Politica is a media arts non-profit which screens a selection of independent political films. The local at Concordia, active since 2004, is Cinema Politica’s longest running film showcase, attracting hundreds of people to their weekly screening throughout the semester. 

The film, written and directed by Isabelle Solas, shows the lives of trans activists Claudia and Violeta, as well as those of their compatriots, in their daily political struggle for acceptance in Argentina. Despite the reality of discrimination they face from upholders of the patriarchal society and trans-exclusionary feminists, among others, they manage to fight for political progress and form community with each other.

The films’ intimate portrayal of these women in both their activism and relationship to one another rings authentic. The different relationships these women have with their friends, families and each other demonstrates a vast diversity of trans experiences — something that is rarely shown and so often ignored. Claudia is close with her mother who supports her and her cause, whereas many other trans people were shunned or kicked out of their homes. They had to turn to sex work for survival, and have strived together for support and political activism in the community.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with two speakers, Anaïs Zeledon Montenegro and Elle Barbara, from the Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q), a project under CACTUS Montréal. ASSTT(e)Q is run by and for trans people, to help trans people in need of healthcare and social services. The program’s core funding is being cut in April and they are collecting donations.

Barbara shared how she related to the protagonists of the film since, prior to working at ASTT(e)Q, they were heavily involved in the grassroots project Taking What We Need which organized parties and fundraisers to give money to low-income trans feminine people in Montreal. This allowed Barbara to politicize transness. 

“That’s what transness was like to me, it is intrinsically political. And in that regard, I find the experiences depicted in the documentary are similar.”

Montenegro, who also has experience being on the streets, shared the importance of greeting people with love at ASTT(e)Q. 

“We’re trying to do our best at ASTT(e)Q to make people think that there’s hope. That’s what we talk about: hope.”

The Cinema Politica film screenings are always free with the possibility to contribute donations at the venue. Their funding also comes from the Canada Council for the Arts and membership  fees.

Upcoming Cinema Politica screenings can be found on their website. 

Student Life

Slice of Life: Peeing in peace

It shouldn’t be so hard to make washrooms gender-neutral on campus

Ah, gender-neutral washrooms: so controversial (sigh), yet so simple. News flash! Everyone has a gender-neutral washroom in their home, and everyone deserves access to a facility that suits their needs. But the call for more gender-neutral washrooms goes far beyond that. It’s about advocating for the right to feel safe in a washroom—a right cisgender people often don’t think about.

Many ideological and physical constructs of society, right down to the way washrooms are designed, exclude many LGBTQ+ members. Non-binary people having to choose between ticking off ‘male’ or ‘female’ on certain forms; trans people having to choose which washroom to use—or choose to not use the washroom altogether—are all examples of these exclusionary structures.

D.T, a trans advocate and public educator for the Centre for Gender Advocacy, said it’s hard to pinpoint the exact number and location of accessible gender-neutral washrooms across the Concordia campuses. “I also have a problem with ‘single-stalled’ washrooms in general,” said D.T. “Why do we have to exclude ourselves, and further isolate ourselves?”

Ella Webber, a trans student at Concordia, said they found a list of gender-neutral washrooms on the Centre for Gender Advocacy website. It also has information about other resources available to trans and non-binary students, both at Concordia and around Montreal. “Concordia never mentioned that in [the] orientation which I went to,” said Webber. D.T. explained that the list on the centre’s website hasn’t been updated since 2016 and doesn’t account for construction on campus that may bar accessibility. “I think at orientation we should be notified about Concordia’s queer facilities like [the centre] and their resources,” said Webber. “When I do find [gender-neutral washrooms] it’s super helpful, and so much more comfortable for me as a trans person.”

Personally, I know there are single-stalled gender-neutral washrooms on the Loyola campus on the second floor of the CC building, in the Hive Café, and in the basement of the CJ building. D.T. informed me that, in the H building on the downtown campus, Reggies bar, the other Hive Café, plus the 5th, 7th and 10th floors, all have gender-neutral washrooms as well (although, due to construction on the 7th floor, the washroom is currently inaccessible—same goes for the VA building).

D.T. and the centre described the H building as extremely problematic in terms of accessibility, one of the reasons being that many of the single-stalled gender-neutral washrooms in the building are shared with wheelchair users. This means they are only accessible with an access code or key provided by the security desk on the first floor (not where the washrooms are). Trans and non binary students not only have to locate the gender-neutral washrooms that are actually open on all of three floors in the Hall building (total number of floors is 12), and plan to get the necessary key or access code, but, after all that, once at the security desk, they may be asked to justify their needs to the security officer. “They run the risk of being outed and asked intensive questions,” she said. “It’s super shitty.”

D.T. met with Andrew Woodall, the Dean of Students, a few months ago to communicate the centre’s goals—both short and long-term—for the gender-neutral washrooms project. Short term, they would like to see three types of washrooms: an all-gender washroom available to everyone, trans or not, regardless of their gender identity and expression; a men’s washroom for men, male-identifying or transmasculine persons; and a women’s washroom for women, female-identifying or transfeminine persons, explained D. T.

Long term, the centre would like all washrooms to be gender-neutral, thus “respecting everyone’s right to choose the washroom that is appropriate for them.” While Woodall was very supportive of the centre’s project and their demands, he said these changes would take time. “The centre is not satisfied with this response,” said D.T. She also explained how something as simple as changing signage to actually indicate whether a washroom is gender-neutral helps increase accessibility and awareness. “We don’t want only promises,” she said. “We would like the university to put a concrete plan in place to get us to our goal.”

I’m a big fan of the ‘my rights end where your rights begin’ logic, so let’s talk privilege for a second. Do you navigate your days thinking about where the next available and safe washroom is? Do you mediate your liquid intake so you don’t have to go as frequently? If you answered ‘no’ to the above, I’d suggest rethinking the privilege—yes privilege—you have of simply using a washroom. Everyone should be able to pee in peace.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

Updated on Jan. 9. 2024

In the original version of the article, one of the two sources was named fully. One of the sources has since requested to be left anonymous.

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