CALGARY – Mike Hooves was turning a wrench on a bike when a man came over, said “let me help you” and grabbed the tool.
Hooves, who identifies as a non-binary femme, knew the man meant well, but it didn’t feel good to be treated that way.
“The underlying assumption is you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Hooves, 25, was born a girl and presents as feminine, but doesn’t identify as male or female.
About 18 months ago, Hooves stopped by Good Life Community Bicycle Shop in Calgary for its gender empowerment mechanics program. Every Wednesday, the shop is reserved for women, transgender people or those who identify as neither male nor female to work on or learn about bikes.
Good Life is not a traditional retailer, but rather a not-for-profit education and resource centre. It was a welcome change from the male-dominated bike shops where Hooves has been talked down to and babied.
“It was super friendly and there were people I could relate to. There were people who looked like me or were like me, and it just made it easier for me to feel comfortable asking questions.”
Good Life aims to create a more welcoming atmosphere for those who may not feel at ease in a typical bike shop. It also wants to make cycling more inclusive in general, said Hope Madison Fay, who manages the shop’s public relations and fundraising.
“I actually didn’t know anything about bikes at all before starting to work at Good Life and I definitely, since working here, have gained a confidence that I didn’t really know was even possible.”
On Wednesdays, the shop is strictly off limits to everyone except those the program is meant to serve. Anyone else who shows up is asked to come back another day. Madison Fay said staff don’t assume people’s gender identity just by looking at them, so will ask if they’re there for the program.
Not all of those turned away are understanding. Madison Fay said it’s not unusual for Good Life to get a couple of bad reviews a month accusing the shop of discrimination.
“Sometimes it goes well. Other times, people are upset.”
Good Life got a nastier-than-normal response last Wednesday following a Reddit post deriding the shop as going “full on SJW” — social justice warrior.
The shop received 30 or 40 one-star reviews within a 12-hour span, Madison Fay said.
The user who started the Reddit thread, JarritosFritos, wrote that he was hoping to pick up a cheap bike during his lunch hour and was asked about his gender identity.
“Is this real life?! Never thought i would come across this here,” he wrote, saying he had contacted the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
JarritosFritos, who declined to provide his real name, wrote in a private message that he’d decided not to file a complaint after being told it could take years to resolve and it wasn’t clear the shop had committed a human rights offence.
The Alberta Human Rights Act allows for policies, programs and activities where the objective is to improve the lives of people who are disadvantaged.
Good Life is on the right side of the law, said Kyle Kirkup, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
“It’s a pretty straightforward case where if it were ever to be challenged, the bike shop would be successful,” he said.
“They’re on very solid footing to say this is actually designed to basically try to redress in a small but meaningful way the fact that there are some communities that don’t feel comfortable in a bike shop on a day-to-day basis.”