Same Gender Events
growing and Thriving
Jackie Finn | June 8, 2017
Nabil Najjar figured it was worth a shot. Gay marriage had just been legalized in his home state of California, and he had long loved and supported tennis, serving on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA) for more than a decade.
“I thought, the USTA has husband-and-wife tournaments,” said Najjar, “so why not reach out to the USTA about a sanctioned husband-and-husband and wife-and-wife tournament.”
He found a welcome reception. Among the USTA’s official mission and goals is a subset of core values in which diversity and inclusion are listed first. So in 2015, the organization reaffirmed its commitment to equality by officially adding a sanctioned same-gender couples’ doubles tournament to the adult and senior family tournaments that were already offered.
“I talked to the USTA, and three months later they approved it and we had our first-ever same gender couples’ double’s tournament in Palm Springs,” Najjar said.
“It caught national attention, and now tournaments all over the country are supporting the same gender married division.”
The first event, which was organized by Najjar and held at the Plaza Racquet Club in Palm Springs, offered five combined-age events (three for men and two for women). Since then, participation in the tournaments has steadily increased.
Moreover, by partnering with the GLTA, the tournament, which began on the Plaza Racquet Club’s hard courts three years ago, has grown to include clay and indoor events in 2017 and an ever-growing list of participants.
Currently, same-gender married couples, those in civil unions, domestic partners and other spousal equivalents are able to participate in events that are open to players of all ages, as well as events in which their combined age is 80-and-over, 100-and-over and 120-and-over.
“The USTA is thrilled with the success of this event,” said Katrina Adams, USTA Chairman of the Board, CEO and President. “The enthusiasm of the competitors – and the high level of competition – proves that these tournaments are an idea whose time has come. We look forward to continuing to offer more same-gender events as part of our efforts to make tennis more accessible to more people.”
Dan Merrithew, president of the GLTA, reiterated the importance of these tournaments and the USTA’s overall support of the gay and lesbian tennis community.
“The USTA sponsors our tournaments around the United States with grant funding, but it’s not just about the money, it’s the support, it’s seeing members of the USTA staff physically coming out to our events,” Merrithew said. “Our players see that support, you turn the clock back 30+ plus years when people had to play in secret and now the national governing body of U.S. tennis hangs out with the GLTA, we’ve come a long way.”
According to Merrithew, the GLTA, which currently hosts 300 events worldwide and has more than 1,000 tournament participants nationally, is incredibly excited about adding a clay and indoor tournament to the schedule. The indoor tournament is slated for later this year in Portland, Ore., while the clay-court event will be held in Naples, Fla.
“People are just excited to have the opportunity to play in national championships at these beautiful facilities,” Merrithew said.
Added Najjar: “I’ve heard couples say that this is historic that we get to be playing in a USTA National Category I tournament and competing as a gay couple. Couples have said this is history in the making, to be accepted on and off the court.”
Registration for the clay-court tournament is now open and can be found here.