School’s Brave Space Club a special place for students like Ryder Rempel
Gender just isn’t that important to Ryder Rempel.
Ryder was right at home among his friends in the Brave Space Club when they raised the Pride flag at Crossroads Public School on Thursday afternoon.
The 13-year-old student was visibly excited to be part of the raising and was proud “to be my own self.”
Shortly after raising the flag, Ryder disappeared into the school to sell freezies to other students, all the proceeds of which go to Quest Community Health Centre, which provides health care for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Crossroads principal Kate Fish said the flag raising and freezie sale were organized by the Brave Space Club, an inclusive group for students to express their gender safely and openly wherever they might fall on the spectrum.
Ryder’s journey began about a year ago when he told his mother, Kristin Burr-Rempel, he felt uncomfortable wearing girl’s clothes.
“As he’s growing, he’s recognizing he’s kind of got a foot in both worlds,” she told The Lake Report.
For Burr-Rempel part of the beauty of her son is he just doesn’t really care.
She recalls a moment with Ryder when he was trying on shirts and she told the child she could see the strap of their sports bra.
“That’s alright, it doesn’t really matter,” Burr-Rempel remembers Ryder saying.
When asked how he’d like to be identified in this story, Ryder told his mom it doesn’t really matter.
What does matter to the family is that their child’s confidence has skyrocketed since he made the decision to wear boy’s clothes and use the name Ryder.
“He was really confident about it,” Burr-Rempel said.
After talking about it with his mom, the family changed his name that night.
“And off we went – and never looked back,” she said.
Both Burr-Rempel and Fish said they’ve seen immense improvement in Ryder’s social and academic confidence.
Fish refused to take any credit.
“Everybody’s journey is their own. And we’re just here to support them,” she said.
In the two years she’s been at Crossroads, she and the rest of the school staff have worked really hard to build an inclusive and diverse environment, she said.
Last year the school celebrated Pride Month for the first time.
“This event, last year, paved the way for a student to come out the following day,” Fish said.
It had a huge impact on her as an educator.
“To have created an environment where even just one child feels more comfortable being who they are, that’s pretty gratifying,” she said.
Ryder’s grandmother Karen Burr was also at Crossroads school for the flag raising and she says the family is taking the child’s transition in stride.
“We don’t know whether this is a forever thing. We just take it day by day,” Burr said.
She said the family still gets lots of questions about what bathroom Ryder uses.
“We’re going to encounter that wherever we go,” she said.
According to board policy, students are permitted to use the bathroom which “best corresponds to the student’s lived gender identity.”
The same policy advises that, to prevent bullying, it may be necessary to educate a student’s peers about their gender identity.
In addition to that, Fish says Crossroads has a universal bathroom for any person who feels uncomfortable using the segregated bathrooms.
She hopes kids won’t be bullied for their gender identities.
“Optimism isn’t a strategy, though,” she added, so she and the rest of the team at Crossroads try to resolve bullying on a case-by-case basis.
Sometimes that means reaching out to families, having open conversations with all parties, and teaching conflict resolution strategies.
“We’re all equal. And if we can treat each other as equals, it minimizes opportunities for kids to feel poorly about themselves,” Fish said.
“Trying to reduce it proactively, I think it helps.”
Burr-Rempel is more concerned about the bullying beyond the classroom.
“We’ve got school trustees that don’t think my kid is OK,” she said.
She was referring to Natalia Benoit, NOTL’s trustee on the Niagara Catholic board, who wants the board to reverse its policy allowing schools to wave the Pride flag.
St. Michael Catholic school in NOTL will be flying the Pride flag this month, board spokesperson Jennifer Pellegrini said in an email.
Benoit also has faced heavy criticism for comparing the Nazi flag to the Pride flag in a now-deleted YouTube video.
“The director of education and the chair of the board have publicly expressed their disappointment in Trustee Benoit’s choice of words,” Pellegrini said.
Her proposed policy changes, viewable on the Catholic board’s website, would also make it impossible for Catholic schools to fundraise for a “social policy campaign or activity.”
“The district’s role is to teach students how to think, not what to think, thereby keeping classrooms as places of education, not indoctrination,” Benoit said in her motion to change the Catholic board’s policy.
She made exceptions for teachings of Catholicism “as expressed in the catechism.”
Pellegrini said the board “places great emphasis” on the issues of diversity and equity in its four-year strategic plan.
As well, 2SLGBTQ+ students have equal access to mental health services in the event that they may be struggling with gender identity, she said.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, negative reaction came swiftly after the installation of the long-awaited rainbow crosswalk on Anderson Lane last week.
The same day Crossroads raised the Pride flag, the rainbow crosswalk was defaced by a driver doing “doughnuts” in the intersection and burning rubber tire tracks into the fresh paint.
The next day it was damaged again.
As well, the crosswalk was described as indoctrination and criticized on social media as inappropriate after the town unveiled it last Tuesday morning.
Burr-Rempel said, “There is definitely a polarization here that is happening,” but adds that this is not the time for people to be quiet.
“At this age, he’s pre-pubescent. He doesn’t need to fit a box,” she said of Ryder.
He’s just a kid who doesn’t want to look like a girl, she said.
“Does it really change who the kid is by putting them in a gender box?” she asked.
As far as she is concerned, it certainly does not.
- People interested in learning more about Quest’s Rainbow Niagara Services program can do so at its website.