Erin Maher | June 26, 2019
The hallowed tennis courts on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the US Open, are not only reserved for the likes of the pro tennis elite.
Every July, the same courts that have built champions, glory and legacy also provide an inclusive, safe space for tennis players of all levels during the Liberty Open, a premier event on the Gay Lesbian Tennis Association (GLTA) World Tour.
The GLTA’s mission is to provide an open, safe, inclusive space and community that is committed to promoting and developing amateur tennis in the LGBT community. Each year, the GLTA hosts over 70 tournaments around the world. Of the 70, the Liberty Open is the only tournament held at the same location that a Grand Slam event is played.
“That’s the most impressive thing about Liberty, that’s our biggest draw. ADVERTISEMENT Everyone just wants a photo with [Arthur] Ashe [Stadium] in the background,” says Albert Cousins, tournament director of the Liberty Open.
The Liberty Open was first held in 1994 and features 12 divisions. The event is entirely run by volunteers and is sponsored by the Metropolitan Tennis Group (MTG), a non-profit organization based in Manhattan that offers plenty of tennis programs and activities for LGBTQ tennis players of all ages and levels.
Every year in July, upwards of 200 players from around the world descend upon the Big Apple for a few days of play, friendship and fun. Players are treated to swag bags and offered the chance to play on the courts of the US Open. Many of the players who participate in the Liberty Open also play other events on tour, making the competition both fierce and familial.
Off the court, competition becomes camaraderie, as the Liberty Open features a welcome party for its athletes in downtown Manhattan, with food, raffle prizes and, most importantly, the chance to raise money for a charity. All GLTA tournaments also serve as fundraisers, with each tournament raising money for its charity of choice. Last year, the Liberty Open raised $2,000 for the Ali Forney Center, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting LGBTQ youth from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to live independently.
“For me personally, those are my friends, that’s my social network. It’s all through just the tennis community, and we’re joined together by the common interest, but we’re all friends year-round,” said Cousins, who first became involved with the Liberty Open in 2014 as a volunteer before becoming tournament director in 2018.
Cousins has stayed involved, thanks to the community of friends he made, the people he met and the welcoming atmosphere that the Liberty Open offers to everyone.
“I think that it’s such an inclusive environment that anyone can come. Straight people play, anyone can play. It’s just a good, inclusive place to play.”
The 2019 Liberty Open kicks off on Friday, July 5, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., and runs through Sunday, July 7. It is open to the public.
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Pictured Above: Players on Grandstand at the Liberty Open held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. (Photo Credit: Albert Cousins)