Roller skating, bumps, soccer, bruises, cheers, and advocating for gender equality. What do they all have in common?
Before recently, not that much. But a few different local groups came together and collaborated to support one another in Essex Junction earlier this month.
The Green Mountain Roller Derby (GMRD), Change the Story VT (CTS), and the Burlington High School (BHS) girls’ soccer team partnered to dedicate the skaters’ first bout of 2020 to the #EqualPay movement--working to close the pay gap between women and men.
“Pay is still unequal in Vermont,” said Aly Johnson-Kurts, communications director for CTS. “Right now, the wage gap is 16 cents; and women of color are earning even less--likewise with women with disabilities. So, that is why we are here, because we need a deeper sense of fairness in the community.”
The #EqualPay bout took place Feb. 1 at the Champlain Valley Expo which is home to GMRD’s flat track. Skaters donned personalized jerseys made special for the occasion, and fans were able to purchase their own throughout the night. One dollar of each jersey sold goes to BHS girls’ soccer’s #EqualPay fund while the remaining proceeds will support GMRD’s Junior Roller Derby League in the form of gear and scholarships.
One of Johnson-Kurts’ colleagues at CTS has a daughter on the BHS soccer team, and the connection grew from there. The Seahorses made national news in October after players were penalized for not just wearing shirts which read “#EQUALPAY” underneath their uniforms--but taking off their jerseys to display the undershirts after scoring a goal late in the game.
BHS senior captain Helen Worden spearheaded the team’s interest in advocating for equal pay by bringing back the motivation she got for it in Europe.
“I went to the  Women’s World Cup in France,” Worden said, “and in the final game, after [the U.S.] won, the entire city and stadium started chanting, ‘Equal pay!’ It was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever been to. So I talked to [my teammates] about doing something when I got back home, and it took off from there.”
The Seahorses were originally going to try and sell homemade jerseys with the hashtag, but CTS jumped in and offered to help design and purchase official, tech material shirts with names put on the back and then to help sell them.
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place after GMRD reached out to CTS to see if someone might be interested in setting up a table to promote their work at a bout. As no one from Change the Story was available for that particular date, the derby team contacted Vermont Works for Women, one of CTS’ three core partners.
“It kind of felt like a no brainer,” said Nell Carpenter, the youth program manager for Vermont Works for Women. Carpenter had never heard of roller derby before but was enthralled with the idea after looking into it. Carpenter would later sign up for GMRD’s boot camp and joined the team, taking on the skating nickname “Megan Scrapinoe’’ in honor of U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) star Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe has been a staunch leader in the equal pay movement and was a driving force in having the U.S. Women’s National Team (USNWT) file a class action suit against U.S. Soccer last March. The lawsuit says that between 2013-16, the women’s national players earned, at most, $4,950 for winning a non-tournament game while men’s U.S. players collected an average of $13,166 per similar victory.
Further frustration for USWNT fans, and fans of equal pay, is that the women’s team has won four FIFA World Cups since 1991--including the last two--while the men’s squad has never even made it to the championship round.
“I’m a soccer fan, derby fan, fan of gender equity, fan of youth activists… so this game was a really cool fusion of all those passions,” Carpenter said after the Feb. 1 bout.
The Seahorses’ raised funds will support accessibility for young girls looking to play in the Greater Burlington Girls Soccer League and widening access to other girls’ sports.
“This was so cool--to see everybody wearing our jerseys,” said BHS senior captain Maggie Barlow. “It was really great to see so many people supporting the cause.”
GMRD was established in November 2007 as part of the modern day resurgence of roller derby. It’s a fast-paced, full-contact sport which is among some of the fastest-growing athletic competitions in the world today.
Kim Anetsberger, known as “Risk” by her teammates, has been skating with GMRD and Essex’s Grade A Fancy squad for the last three years.
“I love it,” Anetsberger said about roller derby’s physicality. “It’s really fun, and it’s really fun to even get hit. There’s something about getting knocked down; like, flying down and just getting up again. It’s empowering as heck, as crazy as that sounds. It’s amazing.”
Asked about the #EqualPay event, Anetsberger said, “The partnership has been really great. We share similar visions about what our future should look like with equal pay and women’s rights. I hope we will keep partnering with them in the future.”
Anetsberger also said that the bout might have introduced derby fans to the movement, as well as hopefully drawing some new people to the sport.
“Maybe we’ll get more recruits out of it too,” Risk commented. “It’s always great to see another person stand up and try it. But I also think--I’m really hoping--that tonight is reiterating an important concept to our regular derby goers.”
GMRD might have found three new skaters that night in the BHS soccer players who said they were immediately interested and picked up information about the sport and how to join. Anetsberger assures potential recruits that they won’t be banged up right away, as new members go through a detailed process of learning how to fall safely before being involved in contact drills.
The league’s next boot camp for beginners starts Feb. 25 at the Champlain Valley Expo. More information on how to join GMRD, the sport in general, and the ability to purchase one of the #EqualPay jerseys can be found at gmrollerderby.com.
CTS is a multi-year initiative which aims to align philanthropy, policy, and program to fast track women’s economic well-being in Vermont. Along with Vermont Works for Women, it partners with the Vermont Women’s Fund and the Vermont Commission on Women. Change the Story launched in 2015 with a project to collect baseline data related to women’s work, wages, business ownership--as well as in civic, political, education, and corporate leadership roles.
“We’re seeing Vermont businesses and organizations look deeply at pay equity,” Johnson-Kurts said. “Change the Story just launched a program called ‘Leaders for Equity and Equal Pay: LEEP.’ It’s a year-long cohort that brings together employers in the community to do a pay equity review, notice pay discrepancies, and ameliorate them. This effort will help chip away at the pay gap in Vermont, and the tools will become widely available in the future for more employers to do the same.”
Vermont Works for Women has another strong tie to the area, hosting Rosie’s Girls at the Center for Technology Essex (CTE) for the last 20 years. The summer camp is for middle school girls and gender non-conforming youth who spend a week learning a trade. 2020 will be situated in the woodshop with professional carpenters and woodworkers teaching the campers.
“It’s a really empowering camp,” Carpenter said. “It helps them expand their sense of possibilities for their lives and also develops some really great connections with their peers as they all try this new thing, take risks, and rise up together throughout the week.”
Carpenter found a connection between Rosie’s Girls and the roller derby last year, meeting a camper who had been spending the summer learning to weld at CTE and skating at the junior derby camp.
“I think that there’s so much synergy between the two of them,” Carpenter said. “For a lot of people, getting up on roller skates is a really incredible thing--just as using power tools for the first time.”
GMRD’s next bout is scheduled for March 21.