It's the word "only" that really gets to retired Helena resident Fritz Behr. 

That's the problem word, the one that he says violates Montana's human rights law, and the reason Behr, 77, is decrying Bridger Bowl's For Women Only ski program.

"They can't exclude you just because you are male," he said. "I'm not trying to hurt Bridger. I'm just trying to be helpful and bring to their attention that what they're doing is not permitted."

In a letter to Bridger Bowl officials dated Dec. 24, Behr contends that the ski area's "For Women Only" program, which consists of two four-week sessions of ski lessons for women, breaks the law.

"I would like to avoid filing a formal complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau about this situation," Behr wrote, "but I will if I have to do so."

But Behr said he isn't griping because he wants to participate in the program. His complaint stems from having grown up under heavy discrimination and his determination to do his part to make sure prejudices don't persist in today's society.

Until he was 8 years old, Behr lived in Germany under Adolph Hitler's rule. Behr's father was Jewish, and so he was also considered Jewish, although he said Wednesday that he's a practicing Christian.

Behr was forced to attend an all-Jewish school as a youth, "because under Hitler I couldn't go to a regular school," he said.

He remembers running into basements to avoid the bombs, and said members of his family died in concentration camps.

He, his mother and brother fled Germany and moved to the United States in 1941. Behr said he still remembers the big red J on his passport, which he said stood for "Jew boy."

"I don't like discrimination, as you can imagine," he said.

He cited the old quote: Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.

And Behr said he will not be one of those do-nothing people.

Officials at Bridger Bowl, however, don't see the program as discriminatory.

Bonnie Hickey, the ski school director, pointed out that the hill also offers a men's program, which also has two four-week sessions, held on a different day of the week than the women's program.

Hickey, who has been at Bridger for more than 20 years, said no one has ever complained before. Behr's concerns don't make sense, she said, because women and men both have the opportunities to take ski lessons.

She said no one has ever asked to be in a program with the opposite gender, but if they did, she said she would consider letting him or her in if everyone else in the program was OK with it.

But, she said, "If it made them uncomfortable, it wouldn't meet the goals of the program."

The For Women Only program, Hickey said, is important to women in the valley, and offers camaraderie and the opportunity to not feel pressured by men in the group. She said the women's program sells out every year, although the men's program is not as popular.

She also said that Bridger has had a men's program just as long as it has had the women's program, and vice versa. Also, a male or female can take private or group lessons that have nothing to do with these program any day of the week.

Randy Elliot, Bridger Bowl's general manager, said he thinks the programs will remain as they are.

"I don't know why we'd change anything, since we offer the same to both sexes," he said.

That's not good enough for Behr. He said that even though there are men's and women's programs, it's the phrase "For Women Only," rather than something like "Women's Program," that sparked his opposition.

The men's classes are referred to as "Wednesday Men's Day."

Behr, a former member of the New York City Police Department, was also administrator of the Montana Department of Justice's law-enforcement services division under Montana Attorney General Mike Greely, and was senior administrative assistant for former Gov. Stan Stephens. His work for the state spanned from 1977 to 1993.

If he took his objection to the next step, it would not be the first complaint Behr has filed with the Montana Human Rights Bureau. He also took up a grievance with Crossroads Fitness Center in Helena because a section of its facility was only for women. The bureau decided in Behr's favor.

"Crossroads Fitness Center did not think that I was serious about this problem," Behr wrote in his letter, "but they found out different after protracted litigation."

Carly Flandro can be reached at 582-2638 or cflandro@dailychronicle.com.

 

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