By Mo Perry
The subject of our Volunteer Spotlight is no stranger to the dedication and heart required of volunteers. As the coordinator of volunteers and interns for Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, a committee member on the University of St. Thomas’ Forum on Workplace Inclusion for the past decade, and a member of the board of directors for Twin Cities Pride, Kurt Wiger is drawn to meaningful work that truly makes a difference in the world. Here is his story, in his own words.
For the past 11 years, I’ve worked in volunteer management within healthcare, and last year I was at a point where I wanted to meet new people, get out, and be more involved with life. I wanted to do something that had impact and allowed me to be creative, but I didn’t really know what that would be. The position to be a member of the board of directors for TC Pride came up on my LinkedIn page, and I immediately sent in my résumé.
I have a real passion for Pride. I’ve been out since my late 20s, and I have two brothers who are gay. I still have my button from 1991, the first Twin Cities Pride parade I marched in. So when I saw that position pop up on LinkedIn, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was elected in February 2015 and jumped right in.
The thing I’ve learned the most since joining the board is what an incredible group of people I have the opportunity to work with at Pride. We have a very dedicated group of volunteers who I’ve gotten to know, work with, and respect. The board of directors works with a large team of volunteers who manage the overall operations, entertainment, organizing the food, vendors, security, parade logistics, everything that happens.
Last year I went down to Loring Park during setup and Naj Sengbloh, who manages the entertainment, took me around in the golf cart. I got to watch how this team of people, who have so much knowledge, set it all up. It was so much fun. People were saying, “Board members don’t usually come to setup,” and I said, “Well, this one does!” My feeling is that If I understand what they’re doing, I’ll be able to manage it better.
Last year’s Pride was exhilarating with the timing of the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage. But we realize there’s a lot more work to do, especially for people of color and the trans members of our community. We’re really focused on the question of how we keep moving forward and continue to create an awareness that educates. We’re the third largest Pride in the country, but we’re focusing on how we grow and continue to support our community. Part of Pride’s mission is to commemorate our diverse heritage. That’s what I want to work on: creating an inclusive environment within the LGBTQ community that supports each other and the larger community of the Twin Cities.
We’re working on getting more businesses and corporations on board. Last year I started talking to the Minnesota Twins about collaboration. They have an annual diversity networking event at Target Field, and this year it’s focused on LGBT issues and inclusivity for the first time. Billy Bean [Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, who came out after retiring from the San Diego Padres in 1999] will be here for that. That collaboration feels like a real success to me.
This is also the first year that Pride will be a corporate partner of the Saint Paul Saints. Pride is kicking off with a game at CHS Field. It’s the first time an LGBT organization has partnered with a major or minor league baseball team. General Mills, Target, Best Buy, and many other organizations are also on board with the celebration. This is how we further our mission to celebrate and educate. The annual Pride festival is a great opportunity for all of us to celebrate in the richness of the LGBTQ community, but it’s also our largest fundraising event that helps us support initiatives throughout the year that support the LGBTQ communities.
I’ve been surprised by the advocacy role that I’m taking on. I started my professional life as a teacher, and I’m very into educating people. I just like getting people to come together and have the hard conversations. We have to have the hard conversations, even within our own communities. We still have our own challenges around integrating our community. There’s so much for all of us to learn and carry forward.
The other thing that’s really fun is that Pride is so multigenerational. When the entertainment for this year’s festival was announced, some of the millennials were like, “Who are the Pointer Sisters?” and I was like, “Oh, let me tell you!” As I meet the generations behind me and feel such wonder and pride as they’re walking down the street holding hands, I’m reminded that we all have a responsibility to the generations who will follow us. All you need to do is live open, out and proud, with respect for each other.
Volunteering for me is the opportunity to really make a difference. Creating spaces where everybody can come together and have a conversation, where everyone is respected — that’s what I’m passionate about. I’m an introvert, but I feel I’m on a path to having a broader voice, and I want to give it to Pride. I can’t say enough about the incredible team I work with; none of us can do this alone.