New Capital Pride boss ‘pushes the envelope’
‘Troubled years long gone,’ Provost says
In the end, he’s turned out to be more phoenix than flamingo. But either way, Capital Pride’s new chairman, Sebastien Provost, says he’s ready to dust off the ashes and start anew after a hectic year that saw him shutter one business and open another.
Best known as the creative energy behind the Flamingo — styled as Ottawa’s only gay-straight integration bar, which closed last April — the high-energy, fast-talking 36-year-old was recently elected to lead Capital Pride to what he hopes will become Canada’s third largest lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) festival after Toronto and Montreal.
But first, he says, Capital Pride needs to look “deep inside at our mission, at what things we need to achieve, what team building we need to do. Once we do that, we can produce a world-class festival.”
It’s a tall order for an event that has, over the past 28 years, been criticized as disorganized, underfunded and the victim of volunteer burnout.
“This is a volunteer-driven board of directors with no resources, no staffing and no office space. These board members all have lives and jobs,” says Provost, who splits his time between Ottawa and Montreal. “They make such a community. But we need more volunteers to get things done.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Ian Capstick, chair of the gay village and a member of the Bank Street Business Improvement Association.
“Pride has had some troubled years and thankfully those are long gone,” he says. “Through a variety of decisions and unlucky events, Pride was taking on a considerable amount of debt. They’ve done an admirable job of addressing the situation and regaining the trust of the gay and lesbian community. I’m not sure I would have said that a decade ago.”
The other issue is that, while the LGBT community is all about inclusion and diversity, its wide-ranging demographics and their specific interests present a real marketing challenge.
“Pride is supposed to be for everyone and that’s hard to do when you have such a diverse demographic with LGBT, two-spirited people, people who want to party and people who want political activism,” says Provost. “You don’t want to leave anyone out; it has to be inclusive.”
The first order of business has been to finalize new bylaws, in response to federal and provincial legislation aimed at increasing transparency, addressing liability issues and improving governance of all not-for-profit organizations.
“We wanted to be compliant. We hadn’t had an audit done in a little while, but having them gets us a good guideline on what we’re doing right and wrong. It’s these little steps that will help strengthen and build upon the work of the past 28 years,” he says. “One priority is to rebuild some of the bridges and make it mutual. If we can achieve that, we can do something really incredible.”
It’s a big departure into politics for Provost, who grew up “one of four gay people” in Thunder Bay, Ont., where he did a degree in business. After moving to Toronto to pursue a promotions career, he studied hospitality management at Cambrian College before moving to Ottawa in 1999 to take the event management program at Algonquin College. His latest business venture is a promotions and events company, House of SAS, started with Mercury Lounge general manager and co-owner, Sara Ainslie. Their first venture — a circus-style, gay-straight event that ran concurrently to Capital Pride last year called Cirque Bizarre: Festival for the Fabulous — was pulled together in just six weeks.
It’s the kind of all-inclusive, overthe-top approach Provost is building his reputation on and one that, according to Capstick, Ottawa needs.
“Sebastien is a highly capable guy. Pride isn’t the easiest organization to lead because we’re a really diverse community, but he has shown he can do that. He pushes the envelope in our community; we need people in Ottawa who will take risks and challenge the way things have been done.”