Last week the Department of Education announced that it will investigate claims that Owasso schools failed to protect students from bullying based upon their sexual orientations. That is the US Dept. of Ed, of course, not Oklahoma’s. State Supt. Ryan Walters has a much graver issue to deal with.

          The investigation, spurred by a complaint from the Human Rights Campaign, is the latest development resulting from the death of transgender Owasso student Nex Benedict on Feb. 8, the day after a fight with three girls sent Benedict to the hospital.

          HRC President Kelly Robinson requested the investigation into the “circumstances,” leading to Benedict’s death – “a gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-transgender hatred spreading across the United States.”

          Robinson called for the probe to investigate, “Owasso High School’s failure to address harassment and discrimination on its campus beginning in the 2023 school year.”

          The Owasso school district, as the Benedict story unfolded, had previously told ABC News,

that the “safety and security of our students is our top priority and we are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.

          “Bullying in any form is unacceptable,” the statement read. “We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures in place to address such behavior.”

          Yet,, the same day the Education Department’s investigation was announced, a story by Molly Young appeared in The Oklahoman headlined: “Former Owasso LGBTQ+ students remember history of unchecked bullying.”

          Young’s interviewees told her “they recognized their own experiences in Nex’s story. They described instances of repeated bullying and harassment over their gender identities and sexualities and said they often felt administrators failed to appropriately intervene.”

          Ren Stolas, who is transgender, remarked: “I was bullied pretty much every day, consistently. That’s why this hurts a little extra.” 

          Young also reported: “Aren Deakins, who graduated from Owasso in 2018, said other students once cornered him and asked him to show his genitals. Deakins is queer and uses the pronouns he and it. 

          “‘I was not a threat, but I felt threatened,’” he said, ‘and the school’s response was I could change lunch’ times.”

          As mentioned, this will be a federal investigation. Walters, in his non-stop auditioning for a possible place in a Trump administration, has turned his attention to something more serious than the death of a 16-year-old student.

          The State Department of Education is looking into a video purportedly from a Deer Creek student fund-raising event where students are shown “licking other individuals’ feet,” according to OKC Channel 9, which said it could not verify the authenticity of the video posted on TikTok by Libs of TikTok.

          Libs of TikTok was founded by Chaya Raichik, a Floridian who also spends time in California, according to the Washington Post. Walters appointed this out-of-stater to an OKLAHOMA state library advisory committee. (We don’t have enough haters in this state?)

          The original posting claimed “Students sucked on the toes of adults during a school fundraising event. Who approved this?”

          Deer Creek was quick to tell News9 that this was an event organized by students and “did not involve teachers and staff.”

          Gauging the motivation of high school students is tricky at best, but I would lean toward bad taste high school humor more than satisfying some foot fetishes.

          Gauging Walters’ intent is much easier. He announced. “This is disgusting. We are cleaning up this filth in Oklahoma schools. Our agency is investigating.”

          A week earlier, GOP State Sen. Tom Woods responded to a question about Benedict’s death and opined: “I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma.”

          So, screaming “filth” was more of a firehouse siren than a dog whistle as Walters endorsed Woods’ bigotry – in case anyone had any doubts.

          I guess Walters will turn his attention next to high school talent shows where a long-time staple has been cross-dressing football players cavorting, romping and frolicking unrhythmically across the stage to the delight of their classmates.

          But, hate speech has consequences.

          As HRC’s Robinson points out, “efforts to stoke hate and discrimination across the country are having a direct, negative impact on the lives of trans and gender-expansive students. This includes young students like Nex, who face harsh social and public environments largely influenced by this discourse that undermines their lives.”

          Oklahoma officials keep stoking that hatred.

            (Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)

Walters echoes bigoted remarks

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