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Chasten Buttigieg calls out Oklahoma superintendent, Libs of TikTok for dangerous school environment

Author: Christopher Wiggins

Earlier this week, the Human Rights Campaign convened advocates, educators, and leaders to discuss the urgent issues surrounding the tragic death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old teenager of Indigenous heritage from Owasso High School in Oklahoma. The organization held the conversation a month after a fight erupted in a high school bathroom in Oklahoma, which involved the bullied transgender student who would be dead the next day.

Among the speakers was Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and a former teacher. Chasten Buttigieg called out what he saw as the failures of the school system to protect Benedict. “The role of an educator extends beyond the classroom. It’s about ensuring every student feels seen, heard, and valued for who they are,” he said.

HRC president Kelley Robinson further illuminated the systemic neglect faced by LGBTQ+ students.

“Our schools must be safe havens for all students, yet what happened to Nex demonstrates a catastrophic failure in our system,” Robinson remarked. She emphasized the need for federal and state-level interventions to enforce and expand protections for LGBTQ+ students, stressing that “Justice for Nex means ensuring no other student suffers in the way they did.”

After Robinson had written to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights announced a federal investigation into Benedict’s school district.

Chasten Buttigieg specifically criticized the hiring or appointing of individuals with openly anti-LGBTQ+ views to influential positions, such as right-wing extremist Chaya Raichik, who runs the Libs of TikTok account. “Many, many adults failed Nex, especially the state superintendent who has made repeated efforts to parrot anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and famously hiring openly anti-LGBTQ people to prominent positions, including Libs of TikTok, who, as last time I checked, doesn’t live in the state of Oklahoma and doesn’t even hold a degree in library science or education,” Buttigieg said. “Placing individuals who have openly attacked LGBTQ+ rights in positions that influence educational policy sends a dangerous message. It undermines the very foundation of what education should be—a place of safety, growth, and inclusivity.”

He further lamented the politicization of LGBTQ+ lives, illustrated by the inappropriate response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest at Benedict’s school on Wednesday. This group, known for its extreme hate speech, was misleadingly referred to as an “activist group” by local education officials, underscoring a grievous underestimation and mishandling of the hate directed toward LGBTQ+ students, Chasten Buttigieg noted.

“This is not an activist group, and the fact that the school district, especially the state superintendent, wouldn’t speak to that fact and the type of hatred that is invited into a community when people in positions of power allow it to happen,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed this sentiment by focusing on the role educators play in fostering an inclusive environment. “Teachers are often the first line of defense against bullying and discrimination. We need policies that empower us to protect and affirm the identities of all students,” Weingarten stated. She called for comprehensive training and resources to help educators navigate these challenges effectively, asserting, “Educational policy must prioritize the well-being and dignity of every student, without exception.”

Chasten Buttigieg shared his concerns as a parent navigating the complexities of preschool applications, emphasizing the universal desire for competent and empathetic educators — he and Pete Buttigieg have twins.

“As a parent who is currently, you know, going through the throws of applying to preschools, if anyone can commiserate, I want the most qualified people in those rooms. I want people who are going to care about my child and who are going to see my child for the full person they are. And I also want my kid to exist in a space where it’s simply okay to be themselves,” Chasten Buttigieg said.

He then went after Oklahoma’s apparent educational priorities.

“Look, Oklahoma ranks number 48 in education. So, if your state ranks number 48, you’ve got some work to do. And I think the choice to bring someone like Libs of TikTok is going in the completely wrong direction. And if I were in Oklahoma, I would be very embarrassed that that is what my state superintendent was focusing on,” Buttigieg said.

He also touched on the broader societal consequences of failing to protect LGBTQ+ youth. “When we allow hate and discrimination to flourish in our schools, we’re not just failing these kids; we’re failing our society,” he observed.

“Nex’s story is a devastating reminder of the real consequences of our inaction. This isn’t just a policy debate; it’s about the lives and well-being of young people,” he said. “Every kid deserves the right to grow up, to fall in love, to be themselves without fear. We owe it to them to make our schools places where that is not just possible but expected.”

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Christopher Wiggins

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