After Nonbinary Student’s Death, Schools Chief Defends Strict Gender Policies

In his three years as state superintendent for Oklahoma’s public schools, Ryan Walters, a former high school history teacher, has transformed himself into one of the most strident culture warriors in a state known for sharp-edged conservative politics.

Following the death earlier this month of a 16-year-old nonbinary student a day after an altercation in a high school girls’ bathroom, gay and transgender advocates accused Mr. Walters of having fomented an atmosphere of dangerous intolerance within public schools.

In his first interview reacting to the death of the student, Nex Benedict, Mr. Walters told The New York Times that the death was a tragedy, but that it did not change his views on how questions of gender should be handled in schools.

“There’s not multiple genders. There’s two. That’s how God created us,” Mr. Walters said, saying he did not believe that nonbinary or transgender people exist. He said that Oklahoma schools would not allow students to use preferred names or pronouns that differ from their birth sex.

“You always treat individuals with dignity or respect, because they’re made in God’s image,” Mr. Walters said. “But that doesn’t change truth.”

Nex BenedictCredit…Sue Benedict/Sue Benedict, via Associated Press

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