MONTPELIER - The freedom of the open road stops at the front door of a Montpelier-based bike co-op. At least that's what some of its members think.
FreeRide Montpelier, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting cycling, has come under fire from members who say the decision to discourage "male-bodied, masculine-identifying people" from coming to its 89 Barre Street bike shop on Wednesday evenings during "Women and Trans Night" smacks of discrimination.
"I don't think it's a really good idea to fight discrimination with discrimination," says Carl Carlson, a self-described "bike nut" and member of FreeRide.
Robin Shapero, a member of FreeRide's steering committee - which oversees the 70-to-80-member organization - and head mechanic on Women and Trans Night, says it is intended to offer women and transgender people a more comfortable and effective way to learn how to work on bikes.
"From what a lot of people have said to me, mechanical skills are very much a male-dominated field," says Shapero. "A lot of people seem to be intimidated by learning traditionally masculine skills from masculine people. I know I did." Acknowledging some members' concerns, Shapero says Women and Trans Night is "inclusive," not "exclusive," but adds: "If someone was born male, and considers themselves male, then they should think about coming another night."
Even though men are free to wrench on their bikes at workshops on Monday and Friday evenings, Carlson says that isn't enough. "I don't think anybody should be discriminated against at all," he insists.
Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont American Civil Liberties Union, agrees that Women and Trans Night does constitute discrimination, but doesn't believe FreeRide is doing anything illegal. "A court would probably not see it as discrimination if men could otherwise access the services of the bike shop," says Gilbert.
Shapero says men will not be booted out of Women and Trans Night if they need to drop by for minor repairs, but asks that they keep the appearance brief. "All we really want to be is an open space for everyone," she says.