'Exciting to see how far we've come': Moose Jaw celebrating 25 years of pride

Moose Jaw pride is kicking off its 25th pride week on Sunday.

Moose Jaw's first pride week was in 1993

Bethany Boutilier, left, and Joe Wickenhauser, right, at Rainbow Retro in Moose Jaw getting ready for a pride parade. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Joe Wickenhauser says it was a difficult time for many LGBT people during Moose Jaw's first pride week in 1993. 

Due to safety reasons, many participants didn't use their real names during media interviews. 

"I think there have been some changes around the way people perceive their sense of safety," said Wickenhauser, executive director of Moose Jaw Pride and Saskatchewan Pride Network. 

"I think a lot of people are just realizing that these conversations around gender and sexual diversity are happening, and people are becoming more welcoming and accepting."

In hopes of building on those changes, Moose Jaw Pride is celebrating its 25th anniversary of pride week.

Joe Wickenhauser founded and later became executive director of Moose Jaw Pride and the Saskatchewan Pride Network. (Submitted to CBC)

Festivities start Sunday, and include a smudging ceremony, flag raising and faith service. ​

"I'm feeling really excited and encouraged," said Wickenhauser. "We've had a lot of people telling us, and telling me specifically, just how much they appreciate the work we've been doing in the community, and the difference that it's making, and the impact that it's having on peoples' lives."

"We still go a long ways to go, but it's really exciting to see how far we've come."

Healthcare concerns

Although the event is meant to be fun, it's also a time to raise awareness.

Wickenhauser is calling for a provincial LGBT healthcare strategy in Saskatchewan. 

"There's some really challenging disparities in healthcare access, particularly for transgender people trying to access healthcare in Saskatchewan," he said.

Wickenhauser said many LGBT seniors also struggle due to lack of gender and sexual diversity training in long-term care homes. 

"That really creates some safety and health risks for LGBT people as they move into the latter stages of life and into those care home facilities," he said.

Street harassment is also a continuing concern around the province, especially for transgender people, according to Wickenhauser.

He would like to see more education in various organizations, specifically in schools and healthcare settings, so people know how to be respectful and appropriate to the LGBT community. 

Despite ongoing concerns, Wickenhauser said he looks forward to seeing people in Moose Jaw connect with each other during pride.

Moose Jaw Pride is hosting a variety of events throughout the week.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend