From Rainbow Retro, to the first pride parade and beyond, he's been a vital part of the community in Moose Jaw for many years.
Joe Wickenhauser announced Monday that he will be stepping down as Executive Director for Moose Jaw Pride.
Wickenhauser said it's time for a change, both for him, and the community as well.
"I think for anyone doing this work, it is really hard. When you have the same leadership in place for a number of years, sometime things don't grow in the way that they could with new blood. So sometimes I think it's really nice to step aside and let some other folks do some cool stuff. But I'm really proud of the work that I've done. It's time for a new adventure. I think it's just like any other career. You do a career for a bit, and then maybe it's time for something new. So I'm excited for that."
Wickenhauser has been a vital piece of the pride community within Moose Jaw since he arrived in the city. His accomplishments while being the heart of the organization are numerous, and include leading the first pride march ever here in Crescent Park.
"I remember thinking years ago that we were talking about having a pride parade and we just laughed at the idea of 5 people walking down the street. I went to a conference for Canada Pride, and I met another pride organizer who really challenged me to try. Even just a small rally or march or something and see how it goes. We were all really scared that nobody was going to show up and it was going to be really embarrassing. But we had like 100 people show to this march around Crescent Park and it really opened our eyes to the possibility that we could really do it. So the following year we did our first pride parade. I remember the reaction we got from the community, and how meaningful it was for people. People flew home to Moose Jaw from cities far and wide to be a part of this parade because it meant so much to them. To see Moose Jaw finally have that show and visibility and support for gender and sexual diversity. There was just a lot of outpouring of love and support. I felt that very strongly and it was a real gift for me."
Opening Rainbow Retro is among Wickenhauser's top moments from his time in the friendly city.
"That feels like a huge accomplishment for me and the team at that time. We really pushed ourselves to do something that we never thought was possible. And I think having that presence on Main St. is a huge accomplishment and milestone. It really gives a lot of visibility to our community with that location. I'm super proud of that."
Under his leadership, Moose Jaw Pride received funding from the Community Initiatives Fund to open a drop-in centre in St. Andrew’s United Church and to support LGBTQ+ community development across southern Saskatchewan. Within 6 months, the organization received additional funding to establish the Saskatchewan Pride Network.
"The training that we've done is really profound. It's one thing to do a parade and to show the support that you already have. It's another thing to do that education work. And when people come to understand something for the first time, and they learn about ways to support a community, or they learn about how to adjust their language to be more respectful. Or they just learn what a term means that they've been struggling with. These are really important light bulb moments that we need more of. It's really been an honour to be a part of that journey with people. Even now I get comments and emails from people saying 'hey I took your workshop 4 years ago, and I learned so much. I was wondering if you could give me a few more resources for this topic or that topic'. It's incredible to see how you plant a small seed and how people run with it. I'm so grateful for all of the experiences."
Since 2018, Wickenhauser has served as Secretary to the Board at Fierté Canada Pride, a national organization of Pride organizers.
"The challenge with any person who is dedicated, committed and passionate working in the non profit sector is trying to find that work/life balance. I think for me, it might be a path I walk down, or maybe it's a time to take a little break. i'm just open to wherever life leads the next step. I'm going to remain involved in the national pride board. I am currently sitting as their secretary. I'm going to remain involved with that group and keep my finger on the pulse of what's happening across the country."
Over the many years of dedication, Wickenhauser’s work earned him a CBC Saskatchewan Future 40 Award, a Heritage Award from the City of Saskatoon, and a nomination as Citizen of the Year in Moose Jaw.
"Right now I'm focused on taking a breather. We're going to wrap up a few different grants and projects that we've been working on. Get a few more out the door. We've got some exciting things in the works for the coming months. And we're going to do a bit of leadership transition planning and hopefully we'll have a new executive director in the next couple of weeks. And then after that I'm going to take a trip to India. I'm really excited to go somewhere completely new and try a different experience. I'll be on vacation for a couple months, and then when I get back I'll be relocating to find a job out of province. I've been in Saskatchewan for a lot of years, but I've lived in Toronto and Montreal for some time as well and really enjoyed that."
There is an open call looking for a replacement for the position. Anyone interested can email email@example.com.