Ottawa Citizen

New Cap­i­tal Pride boss ‘pushes the en­ve­lope’

‘Trou­bled years long gone,’ Provost says

- JULIE BEUN

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.”

 ?? JULIE OLIVER/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN ?? High-en­ergy, fast-talk­ing Se­bastien Provost, former owner of the gay/straight bar Flamingo and cur­rent owner of House of SAS Pro­mo­tions, has been elected to lead the LGBT fes­ti­val Cap­i­tal Pride.
JULIE OLIVER/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN High-en­ergy, fast-talk­ing Se­bastien Provost, former owner of the gay/straight bar Flamingo and cur­rent owner of House of SAS Pro­mo­tions, has been elected to lead the LGBT fes­ti­val Cap­i­tal Pride.

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