People are often “pleasantly surprised” to learn that the board chair of St. Pete Pride is a straight woman, says SPP Executive Director Eric Skains.
Then again, the reaction can be not so nice. Scion (pronounced see-ON) Provenzano remembers a moment when a guest at a board meeting scoffed, “What does a straight girl know?”
It hurt, but she took it in stride. A money-laundering investigation specialist at Raymond James, she’s been chair for the past two years, having joined the board six years ago after a chance run-in during a Suncoast Softball League game.
Her boyfriend at the time was “obsessed” with softball and had gotten her interested in the league, which is primarily for LGBT players but welcomes allies. (She eventually became a league commissioner.) During one game, she noticed that an injured player was bleeding and asked if he needed a time out. His response — “He asked ‘Do I look fierce?’ instead of asking for a BandAid,” she recalls — was the start of a beautiful friendship. The fierce one, Barry J. Parks, was an SPP board member, and invited her into the Pride universe.
She was already a strong believer in LGBT equality. She says her favorite uncle, nicknamed “Chieto,” is gay, and that his partner, a Costa Rican, had to flee his country and his family in order to live the life he wanted.
“I didn’t want anyone else to have a partner go through something like that,” Provenzano says.
Skains sees Provenzano as a real boon to the Pride organization.
“She’s really helped usher in some sponsors that have been on the fence, have kind of just looked at Pride as a gay event,” he says. “She’s been that major toll-taker on the bridges that have connected us.”
If a straight person betrays some discomfort with the whole gay thing, leading with a comment like, “I feel much more comfortable having a conversation with you…” — Provenzano's glad to let them squirm. “I love to make people feel awkward.” But she might just call them on their shit.
“Some people say I may be a little bit outspoken,” she says. “That may be a nice way to say it.”
And if she doesn’t speak up, someone else might. “When somebody has made an inappropriate comment about the LGBT community, I know my boyfriend will interrupt and say, ‘That’s going to piss her off and that’s going to piss me off.’”
Then there’s the issue of people assuming, because she’s head of a gay organization’s board, that she’s gay herself.
"It happens all the time,” she says. It’s easy enough to fend off potential admirers with a joke, or by pointing out, “That’s actually my boyfriend over there.” But when her parents started to wonder…
“It was hard for them at first. I think they thought I was maybe questioning myself.”
But now, she says, they understand her dedication, and this year (“I’m incredibly excited”) her mother will be attending the St. Pete Pride parade for the first time. Her father, a retired City of Tampa fire chief, is “typical traditional old-school Sicilian,” so he’s taken a little more time to come around, but with friends like former Police Chief Jane Castor as examples, “I think in his mind he’s definitely getting better.” Scion’s younger brother (he’s 27, she’s 30) “has been great with it. He was the first person to text me after the Orlando incident."
That was one of 38 text messages she woke up to on that terrible Sunday morning. Soon she, Skains and fellow board members were group-texting, figuring out the best way to help. Speaking to me on Monday, the day after the shootings, she said, “I apologize if I start crying. Yesterday I think I was in ‘go’ mode. I felt I had to be strong.” But on the next day, after going into the office at Raymond James, she had to leave and work at home.
“A friend at work was comparing it to September 11. You don’t realize how real it becomes until it happens in your back yard.”
In addition to her work with St. Pete Pride, Provenzano is a member of Interpride, an international network of Pride organizations. She and Skains have attended conferences around the world, and in the course of those travels she’s seen firsthand the harsh treatment of LGBT people in other countries — a level of brutality which, the Orlando shootings notwithstanding, American gays rarely experience.
“You meet people from Uganda, people who have scars, people who show you their back and it’s all ripped up. That’s a perspective that not a lot of people see.”
She hopes that Pride celebrations can prevent or at least assuage the scars, both emotional and physical, that the LGBT community has suffered.
“I think the biggest thing is, yes, I’m classified as an ally,” she says, “but really I’m just someone trying to make just one someone’s life better."