For the last seven years, Moose Jaw Pride has been recognizable by its colourful spirit and its brave leader Joe Wickenhauser.
But the latter is soon to change. The non-profit organization’s co-founder and executive director has announced he will be vacating that role in September.
Since 2010, Wickenhauser has become a face and a pillar of Moose Jaw’s LGBTQ community by creating safe spaces and igniting change through education and ongoing discussions.
Wickenhauser said the decision to step down comes after a year of thought and discussion about what his next step will be.
“You work in a job for so long and you think ‘okay I’m onto the next thing, what’s next?’, and so I’m really excited for the next chapter,” said Wickenhauser.
“It is both healthy and truly vital for community organizations to change leadership and empower new voices as they grow.”
Through his many accomplishments, making sure the LGBTQ community has a safe space has been something Wickenhauser looks back on with pride.
“I think Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop is certainly one of the biggest accomplishments,” he said.
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“Our community went from not having any kind representation of the LGBTQ community to having a small office in a church, to having a presence – a storefront and an office space on Main Street.”
“For the LGBTQ community to have space where previously there was nothing or not very much, it is really a huge accomplishment for us.”
Wickenhauser also developed Canada’s first high school credit course on gender and sexual diversity in collaboration with the Prairie South School Division in 2017.
“Reaching people, talking about issues around gender and sexual diversity has been really important,” he said.
Though he looks back on mountains of change within Moose Jaw’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community during the several years he was involved, he knows there is work to be done, especially when it comes to the cross-section of the LGBTQ community and minorities within it.
“[We need to] start to think about how we look at intersectionality, issues around gender and sexual diversity, indigenous issues, disability, and also women’s rights issues.”
“Bringing all of these issues together is a really important thing. There’s so much work that’s yet to be done and I’m really confident that the next generation will carry that forward,” he added.
As for reflections on nearly a decade of work within Moose Jaw Pride, he said “it’s kind of surreal.”
“To reflect back and see how much we’ve been able to do as a team, it’s been really nice to take a moment to reflect and say: ‘Wow, we’ve done so much’, and that’s a really gratifying feeling,” he said.
Once Wickenhauser’s term is done in September, he has a two-month trip planned for India and a plan to relocate. He said he’s looking forward to starting over in a new province.
“It’s bittersweet to let go of a dream job, a loving community, and a place I call home, but at the same time, I can’t wait to start a new journey and to see how the organization takes shape under new leadership,” said Wickenhauser.
He does have some sage advice for the person who takes his place.
“There’s lots to do, pace yourselves. It’s really incredible to have a dream and see it come to life, so enjoy it,” he said.
That advice does need someone to go to though, and Wickenhauser encourages those interested in becoming Moose Jaw’s next executive director to apply.