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Royal West student sparks school uniform change for LGBT teens

03/20/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT
When I first met Bry Bitar, I assumed they were 17 years old, but it turns out Bry is a tall, charming 13-year old. 

And yes, Bry prefers the pronoun "they" — not he or she. Bry also prefers to avoid labels.

"If I need a label, it would be androgynous, leaning towards feminine, which basically means I feel both masculine and feminine. But ...a lot more to the feminine side. I do like wearing...women's clothing, I do like wearing makeup," Bry said. 

From birth until this school year, Bry was Bryan.

Now Bry has stopped wearing the boys' uniform and instead wears the girls' uniform.

It's a first at Royal West Academy. 

I was at the high school, a public alternative school, to interview students about the new LGBT Club, which is also new this school year.

Bry is a member of the club and was eager to talk about it.

"I learned that people are much more accepting even though there is hatred in the world, because I have experienced that. I learned that people are very OK with [who I am] and I should be OK with it and that's what the LGBT Club has helped me understand. It is OK to be 'different,'" Bry said. 

The club meets at least once a week in a classroom at lunchtime. 

It's a safe space where students can support each other, speak openly and share their experiences.

In elementary school in Laval, Bry faced a lot of bullying — which turned physical — and by 11 years old, it was too much.   

"I became depressed, like severely. I didn't want to talk to anyone, I thought everyone hated me...I did become suicidal and I attempted but thank God nothing happened because I'm better today," Bry said.

As a mother with two children in elementary school, I felt my heart stop.

Then it cracked. For Bry, and their parents. 

Immediately I knew I would need Bry's parents' permission to air the interview on Daybreak — and I would have understood had they said no.

Instead, Bry's father, Michel Bitar, agreed to meet me.

I was amazed by how calmly he reacted when I said Bry told me about the suicide attempt.

"Because I come from different culture (Lebanese) and we grew up differently, it took (Bry) a while to tell me. So he told his mom who told me and he was worried that we'd divorce. And I looked at him (and asked) why would I want to do that?  If I didn't love you and didn't love your mom and your brother then I would do that. But because I love you I'm willing to do anything to make it easier...I could see it in his face what a big relief it was for him," Bitar said.

Bry's parents consulted a therapist for support.

More recently, they — along with Bry — met with the administration at Royal West Academy and requested a switch from the boys' school uniform to the girls' school uniform.

To Bry's surpise, the school agreed.

"The second (the meeting) ended I had the biggest smile on my face in the world and I was just so happy in that moment," Bry said.

Bry now goes to the girls' gym class and uses a separate bathroom.

Bry's situation led to the school to initiate a discussion at the school board level, said Tony Pita, Royal West Academy Principal. 

He says the English Montreal School Board is striking a committee to assess how best to serve students and staff in a similar situation.

The goal is to have a policy in place as soon as possible, Pita said.

This has Bry's father beaming with pride.

"(Bry) opened the door. I told him, 'You opened the door for other kids in your situation to have these benefits,'" Bitar said.

Still, it's a learning process for the whole family and Bitar worries about his teen's safety at times, with good reason.

Bry's appearance often attracts unwanted attention and hostility.

"In the streets, people have screamed things at me. I've been followed down my street. I've been hit on by people in the street — sarcastically — they'll (say)  'oh so beautiful' but say it a sarcastic tone then start laughing," Bry says.

But support from the LGBT Club at school is helping. 

"It's easier to stand up for myself if someone were to bring me down because I'm 'different' ...it (has) helped me to gain some sort of confidence, enough for me to feel comfortable in my skin," Bry said. 

Bry's dad sees the difference the club has made and says it's additional support for him and Bry's mother.

Bry says all schools should have LGBT clubs — to support students, raise awareness and promote acceptance.

"You can't really change everyone's opinion but if I could change at least a few people — or even one — it would be amazing," Bry said.

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