Liberty Open puts Pride on grandest stage at the home of the US Open
Just as the US Open is the crown jewel of American tennis, the Liberty Open is a major highlight on the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA) Tour. Both events are held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and both are contested by hundreds of tennis players from around the world.
The GLTA typically sanctions over 70 tournaments a year all across the globe, including events in Australia scheduled to coincide with the Australian Open.
“You can pretend like you’re a professional tennis player and travel to these tournaments all year round,” laughed Daniel Arzuaga, who helps organize the NYC event as commissioner of the Metropolitan Tennis Group (MTG).
The Liberty Open is the only GLTA event played at a Grand Slam venue.
“That’s our biggest draw,” said tournament director Albert Cousins. “Everyone wants a photo with Arthur Ashe Stadium in the background.
“It’s been a great partnership. The NTC has always been extremely accommodating and welcoming, to make it special for us,” he continued, noting that arrangements were made to play on the practice courts during construction for the tennis center’s strategic transformation.
While the NTC has been a long-time host of the Liberty Open, the USTA’s larger relationship with the GLTA has grown in recent years.
“I was very happy when I started seeing the USTA branding at the tournaments, and more visible support,” Cousins shared. “I feel like the GLTA lived on the fringes and I think now there’s much more of an awareness and support.”
Cousins, who started as a volunteer for the Liberty Open in 2014 and became tournament director in 2018, first learned about the event through MTG.
MTG has colored the courts of New York with its diverse and accepting members for over 20 years. They also organize the smaller Marsha Day tournament, their club championships, on the NTC grounds each Memorial Day.
The group is focused on making progress both on and off the court. Each October, MTG holds a fundraiser for the Matthew Sheppard Foundation and its Erase Hate campaign, in partnership with Manhattan’s 119th Street Tennis Association. In recent years, the group’s ethnic diversity has grown as a result of outreach to Latino and African-American communities throughout New York City, an effort to make tennis more accessible.
Thanks in part to funding by the USTA and USTA Eastern, through Diversity & Inclusion grants and Growing Tennis Together grants, the MTG has expanded to include hundreds of members since its formation in the 1990s. The support has also helped grow the Liberty Open, with as many as 250 players competing in recent years.
“Every time that we’ve sought support from USTA Diversity & Inclusion, it’s been very positive,” said Cousins, “and we always promote that connection in all of our marketing materials.”
Pride has extended to the US Open in recent years, with in-tournament events raising the profile of tennis’ LGBTQ+ community. The 2019 US Open saw the largest pride event to date, with the NTC’s Chase Center hosting a panel discussion featuring tennis legend and WTA co-founder Billie Jean King, former NBA player Jason Collins, former MLB player Billy Bean, former ATP player Brian Vahaly, Olympic figure skating medalist Adam Rippon, and active WTA players and partners Greet Minnen and Alison van Uytvanck from Belgium.
“It’s great to see visibility. We all need role models, we all need to feel acceptance,” said Arzuaga. “Just seeing those people and hearing them speak about their experiences is very powerful, and makes us all feel a little bit included and less different.
“We’ve still got a little bit of a way to go. It’s just a matter of communication, dialogue and exposure. That's really the way you do it, I think.”
While the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Liberty Open have been cancelled due to COVID-19, the NTC looks forward to welcoming back the event in the future as the USTA continues to spotlight the LGBTQ+ community on tennis’ grandest stage.