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LGBTQIA+ Students Are Uneasy in the Wake of Recent News Headlines

By Joanna Reid & Kennie Dionisio

Nex Benedict, 16, a nonbinary student, died on Feb. 8, one day after a physical altercation with three other students in their high school girls’ bathroom in Oklahoma. On Feb. 22, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed an executive order that prohibits girls’ and women’s teams with transgender athletes from competing at public facilities throughout the county. As of press time, his counterpart in Suffolk was considering doing the same there, according to the nonprofit Gender Equality NY. As these incidents make national and local headlines, many LGBTQIA+ Adelphi students are feeling frightened and vulnerable. 

Robby Fahrenholtz, coordinator of the university’s Multicultural Center, said though they have not personally heard about any student reporting feeling unsafe specifically related to these events, “we have had some trans and gender non-conforming students tell staff about incidents like faculty not respecting their name and pronouns or isolated incidents of them being made to feel unsafe by individuals in the past.” In response to the news that made national headlines, Sentwali Bakari, Adelphi’s vice president of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) and student affairs, said, Adelphi University is shocked and saddened over the recent violent and senseless death of Nex Benedict, a non-binary teenager from Oklahoma. We recognize this news may cause anxiety and concerns for our LGBTQIA+ students and want to emphasize that Adelphi is committed to taking all the steps necessary to continue to provide a safe and welcoming campus environment.”

He said that Adelphi’s Public Safety officers are SAFE Zone trained (committed to creating LGBTQIA+-inclusive environments through awareness and allyship) and have annual Title IX training. They also maintain an open-door policy, where members of the Adelphi community can meet with officers to address any safety concerns.

“As one of Campus Pride’s 5-star rated and best campuses for inclusivity and support of the LGBTQIA+ population in America, Adelphi will continue to engage with our community members about how we can make our campus a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable to learn, teach, work and grow,” Bakari said.

Regarding Blakeman’s ban, Bakari said the university’s sports teams won’t be affected. “Our Adelphi athletics teams do not use Nassau County's public facilities for competitions. This ruling does not have a direct impact on the university.”

Clubs like Adelphi’s Students Beyond the Binary (SBB), which was created in 2022 as a safe space for all members of the trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming communities and their allies, are also on alert to support students.

SBB advisor Mena Sposito, said, “Students Beyond the Binary’s main concern has been doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our trans and non-binary students here at Adelphi. That includes creating spaces where their voices can be celebrated and also where they feel safe to share their fears about the current political climate and the barriers they face both at Adelphi and in their other communities.”

Sposito said the recent news about Benedict came shortly after the students learned that the speaker they had chosen for this year’s International Transgender Day of Visibility event, Cecilia Gentili, had passed away suddenly. 

“Cecilia was beloved by the trans community,” they said. “She advocated for collective liberation and helped countless people access basic needs and healthcare. Students Beyond the Binary will be honoring Cecilia’s life for Trans Day of Visibility with her close friend and former coworker, Victoria Von Blaque who will be sharing about Cecilia’s life and her own activism.” 

“The Life and Legacy of Cecilia Gentili: A Conversation with Victoria Von Blaque About Trans, Sex Worker and Immigrant Rights” will take place on March 26 from 4 to 5:30 pm in the 

Multicultural Center on the third floor of the Ruth S. Harley University Center. It is being organized by both SBB and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA).              

Wynn Andersen, a junior in studio art who is president of SBB, said LGBTQIA+ based affinity spaces like SBB are beneficial for Adelphi students in the current national climate.  

“The current global climate is extremely hostile towards transgender people; 496 anti-transgender bills have been passed across 41 states,” he said. “As of 2024, New York State is responsible for passing two of these bills, both preventing transgender girls from competing in middle and high school women’s sports. SBB exists to advocate for love and support for transgender students at Adelphi. Also, LGBTQ+ Adelphi students deserve to have as many spaces to receive support as possible. The more support we can provide to LGBTQ+ students the better.”

Ren Blake, treasurer of GSA and a senior political science major, said, “As a queer person and student I am mourning the loss of Nex and saddened to see that our community continues to deal with this today. As an eBoard member of our GSA I am also more aware of why queer student organizations, such as GSA, are so important. I hope that this tragedy serves as a reminder to people of why we still have to fight for queer rights. I also think it is essential to recognize how intersectionality was involved and that their Native identity played a role in this tragedy. We need to continue to fight and speak out so that this doesn’t happen again. We owe Nex and their family at least that.”

Mylo Fisherman (he/him), a graduate student in elementary education and SBB founder, added, “Call your representative and create the change trans people deserve. Stop failing trans kids.”

Bakari emphasized that there are a number of resources for students who may be feeling uneasy or concerned, including: The Office of Community Concerns and Resolutions, the Care Team, the Student Counseling Center, the Interfaith Center and the Office of DEIB.

In addition, Fahrenholtz stressed that “students should know that they are not obligated to keep up with news that they find traumatic. Choosing not to is fine and not a failure on their part as an ally, activist or member of any community. Their mental health is more important than getting up-to-the-minute news.” 

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