'A clash between celebration and protest': Outgoing president reflects on 10 years of Pride Winnipeg

The long-time president of Pride Winnipeg says it’s time for a change within the organization.

Festival has grown considerably, but there's still lots of work to be done, says Jonathan Niemczak

Jonathan Niemczak announced Tuesday that he will be stepping down at the end of September as president of Pride Winnipeg. (Avi Jacob/CBC)

The long-time president of Pride Winnipeg says it's time for a change within the organization.

Jonathan Niemczak announced Tuesday that he will be stepping down at the end of September. He says a regular change in ideas is the best thing for such a diverse organization.

"I'm happy to pass on the torch," he said. "It's just time for the organization to have new leadership."

Niemczak joined Pride Winnipeg in 2008 as the festival grounds and environment co-ordinator. The board appointed him president in 2012.

Over the course of his decade with Pride, Niemczak says, the organization has seen considerable growth. He oversaw the annual festival's move to The Forks from Memorial Park in 2010. That event has since become one of the largest festivals in the city. 

When he took over in 2012, he had 10 full-time volunteers. Now, he has 30.

"I feel like I'm leaving the team in a really stable condition," Niemczak said. "But there's still a lot of work to be done."

Niemczak says the pride community is incredibly diverse and it hasn't always been easy representing such a broad group.

"When I first joined in 2008 it was all about celebration," he said. "We're seeing now that it's almost as if we celebrated too early. There are a lot of people who still aren't being represented and Pride has, in a sense, failed them."

He's referring to Indigenous, trans and non-binary members of the Pride community, to name a few. When Niemczak joined the organization they were still celebrating on the heels of same-sex marriage legalization. That, he says was really only the beginning for Pride, and at the time they acted like it was the end.

The job of president is an appointed position but Niemczak says he found himself treating it as an elected one. His advice to his successor is to listen to the community but remember that it's impossible to please everyone.

Balancing act

He thinks this will be a continuous balancing act for whoever takes on the job next. He says it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.
A float at the 2018 Winnipeg Pride parade (Travis Golby/CBC)

"It's a clash between celebration and protest, and we don't want anyone else to feel left behind."

It isn't all challenges, though. A big part of pride is just that — proud celebrations. Looking forward, Niemczak is expecting the community and the festival to continue to grow and evolve. He says big plans are already in place. In 2020, Winnipeg will be host to the national celebration, Canada Pride.

Niemczak will stay on as an advisory member for the next two years to help facilitate a smooth transition and prepare for the big event.

Pride Winnipeg's board is currently seeking applicants to fill the position.