Rike Moon (she/her) works for BC Parks as the Community Engagement Specialist on the Community Engagement and Education section at Provincial Services Branch in Victoria, BC. She has been in this role since May 2020. Rike is a native of Germany and identifies as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Rike spoke to Rachel about her experience in parks and protected areas from her home in Victoria, BC.
What was your professional career path?
I have a PhD in neuroscience from University of Kassel in Germany. I graduated in 2006 and then worked as a researcher for a couple of years, before coming to Canada in 2009. Before working for BC Parks, I worked for Science World, a science center in Vancouver, for the past ten years in different positions. For most of the time I managed a volunteer program and was involved in many different community engagement initiatives. Part of my responsibilities was to train scientists in science communication and deliver outreach and training workshops across the province. That’s where my passion for working with volunteers and in community engagement comes from. During my time at Science World, I became passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion challenges that especially LGBTQ2S+ scientists still face today in labs around the globe. I raised awareness about these EDI [equity, diversity, and inclusion] issues through events at Science World.
When I saw the job posting for the Community Engagement Specialist with BC Parks, I was excited. Working for BC Parks not only allowed me to move to Victoria to live with my partner Maia, but also offered a wonderful new work experience in the field of community engagement.
When I mentor high school students, I always make a point in telling them that a career path is never a straight line and that it’s important to follow your passion.
What motivates you in your work?
I think what really motivates me is being challenged, having a variety of tasks, and working with different kinds of people. That’s why community engagement is so appealing to me. You never know what will land next on your plate and who you will be working with. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, I’m really interested in systemic change and supporting this change in a thoughtful way. In government, change can be slow, and one has to be patient, but it can have a long-lasting effect.
With the Black Lives Matter movement raising awareness about the challenges that especially BIPOC folks face every day, BC Parks has tasked me to support the implementation of an EDI Advisory Council. This Council has full support of the Provincial Leadership team and will be tasked to look into how BC Parks can diversify our workforce. I’ve also started piloting an Inclusive Language training workshop, that I’ve co-developed with a couple of regional colleagues. It’s great that I’m able to follow my passion again, taking my experience from Science World to BC Parks and hopefully can make a difference and accomplish sustainable change.
What are you working on right now?
Being new to BC Public Service, the first six months were a steep learning curve. But now, I feel more confident and know my way around. My role as the Community Engagement Specialist is to manage our volunteer program, work with partner organizations to enhance the visitor experience in parks and support many different initiatives, like the implementation of an EDI Advisory Committee or developing BC Parks specific inclusive language training. Currently, I’m working with my colleagues in the region on a proposal for new Discover Trails story trails, a collaboration between BC Parks and the BC Parks Foundation as well as local First Nations and other stakeholders.
One exciting project I worked on in the fall was the implementation of the new Youth Employment Program and piloting more inclusive hiring practices, as well as a broad recruitment strategy to diversify the applicant pool for these positions. Learnings from this pilot project can support a more inclusive hiring process going forward.
Can you speak about your personal journey into the LGBTQ2S+ community?
I came out when I was about 25 and feel pretty lucky as my family is very accepting. I know that is not the norm for many in the LGBTQ2S+ community. Although Germany is a very progressive country, there is still a lot of stigma around being queer and I didn’t feel very comfortable being myself. I wasn’t out at work when I worked in research and was very careful about sharing much of my personal life when meeting new people. Coming to Vancouver and working at Science World was great because I felt like I could be myself right away. I didn’t have to hide who I was, and my colleagues were really supportive. The first time going to a Christmas party with my partner back then made me feel like I belonged even though we were different.
During the ten years at Science World doing outreach in remote communities, visiting K-12 classrooms to do science workshops and science communication training with local scientists, I noticed a change in myself. At the beginning I was more careful and didn’t present openly as being queer, but I became more confident in myself and recognized that especially LGBTQ2S+ youth in these rural communities can benefit from seeing themselves reflected. So, I made a point of being visibly queer and added a rainbow pin to my outfit, and it worked. When I visited the high school in Port Hardy, a student noticed my pin and had a big smile on their face when they commented on it. That moment felt great and created a wonderful connection between the two of us. I feel it’s very important for us professional members of the LGBTQ2S+ community to be role models and mentors for the younger generations. That’s one of the reasons why I agreed to this interview.
How has your LGBTQ2S+ identity affected your professional journey and your career path?
I don’t think that being queer has had an effect on my professional journey, but it for sure plays a role in my career path. I feel it’s important to advocate for my community and support especially youth by sharing my story and showing them that one can find a meaningful place in this world despite being different. Nevertheless, I’m still being careful when talking about my partner with new people I meet, as I have to come out every time again and sometimes that doesn’t feel safe. I encourage folks to use the word ‘partner’ when referring to their significant others, because it makes it easier for us queer folks to talk about our partners and families.
Is there anything in particular that drove you to respond to our call for interviewees?
Working with youth has taught me that it’s good to put yourself out there and be a role model, even though that’s not in my nature at all. I prefer to stay in the background. At the beginning of my career at Science World, I didn’t feel comfortable being outspoken, but I feel very comfortable and confident now. I think it’s important not only for youth to see that there are LGBTQ2S+ people with many different careers but also for my colleagues in the parks world. I don’t like to use the word “normalized”, but folks like us are everywhere and these are the jobs that we do, and these are the things that we are passionate about. It’s important to represent that.
Are there any specific barriers to LGBTQ2S+ people who visit parks or are in the scientific community that you can see?
I can’t think of any specific barriers for LGBTQ2S+, but overall transportation is a barrier that I think a lot of groups are facing, because most provincial parks are so far away from the urban centres. Parks around Vancouver are very busy and that’s challenging for all park visitors, park operators, BC Parks staff and nature, of course. I personally haven’t experienced barriers, but then again, I outwardly represent a privileged group, being white and having the means to own a car, purchase outdoor gear and go on vacations. I feel it’s important to recognize and challenge the barriers and judgements that BIPOC, folks with varying disabilities, as well as folks with less income face. Nature is for everyone to enjoy safely and feel comfortable when doing so.
Do you think safety of LGBTQ2S+ people in parks is an issue? What can we do to improve safety in parks?
Yes, I do think that some folks might not feel safe in parks. Park Rangers have enforcement responsibilities and might be perceived as a threat especially by people of colour. I think it is important that public facing BC Parks staff represent diverse demographics of British Columbia, so that park visitors can see themselves reflected. If park-goers can see themselves reflected in staff, that makes them automatically feel safer. When I see a business with a rainbow sticker in the window, it makes me feel safe to enter this space. Small signs like the rainbow flag can help make staff in enforcement roles look more approachable. A great example are the rainbow patches that New Westminster police officers sport during pride week. Similarly, adding pronouns to the email signature makes our virtual work world a more inclusive space.
If you had limitless resources and no bureaucracy, what would you change about LGBTQ2S+ people’s experience working for or using parks?
I would replace gendered bathroom signs with gender neutral signs. It would make parks more inclusive and even safer for the LGBTQ2S+ community to see those bathroom signs changed.
It would also be nice to have a community of practice for park agencies across Canada for LGBTQ2S+ staff to express the challenges they are facing, their success stories, and things that are working well in their jurisdiction. I would also love to see more diverse representation in senior roles.
Has anything changed for LGBTQ2S+ people during your career?
I would say there has been change over the last ten years. Even in Germany, things have changed a bit. But I must admit, we live in this bubble here in Vancouver and Victoria, so it’s hard to compare to other places across the country. I think larger centres are pretty open, but as soon as you leave the city there is still a lot of work to be done. Especially the transgender community still faces a lot of prejudice and hate crimes. Over the last few years there has been more recognition of the challenges that the trans community faces and more support for especially gender queer youth. I like that gender fluidity and differences in gender expressions are being more broadly recognized and we are moving away from the social construct of having two genders. I think that’s so important to enable folks to be who they truly are.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self who’s just starting out in their career?
I love working with wood and fixing things. In hindsight, it might have been better for me to learn a trade before going to university. No regrets though, I really like where life has taken me so far. In regard to being queer, I don’t think there is anything I would change. Being myself and being happy in what I do for work, I think that’s the most important part.
What are the next steps in your career?
I’m really happy where I am right now. I’m excited about working on diversity and inclusion projects and want to make sure that this is something that is part of my work plan. Working with community partners and volunteers is something that excites me, and I think there’s a lot for me to do at BC Parks for the next few years.