Leony Barroso: Leading USTA Kentucky
Leony Barroso defines himself as a tennis player who happens to be gay.
Others in his Kentucky district define him as the USTA state president.
Barroso has moved up through the ranks of community tennis associations in the Bluegrass State, starting in his hometown of Lawrenceburg, then in the larger city of Lexington. He was urged to apply for the state board and now leads one of the nine state districts in USTA Southern.
Southern believes Barroso is the first openly gay man who is a state president in the section.
“I am honored to have that distinction,” he said during an interview about Pride Month. “If that’s a way to open some doors and bring in more tennis fans to feel more comfortable and proud of who they are, then I am happy with that.”
Barroso talked about how he came to tennis and then to the United States. Barroso, who grew up in Vitoria, Brazil, started playing the sport at 13, and competed in junior tournaments there. He emigrated to the U.S. at 19 to play college tennis at Campbellsville (Ky.) University. “It’s a small NAIA school and I played lines 5 or 6. But I loved it,” he said.
He realized that his path would not always smooth. “My journey is a long one. I struggled with (my sexuality), being raised Baptist. But I identified as Leony, a tennis player who happens to be a gay guy from Brazil.”
In the world of tennis, Barroso said, being gay “never really hindered me.”
After college, Barroso decided to remain in Kentucky, becoming involved with the sport at the grassroots level, then in leadership positions within USTA Kentucky. He has also been a member of the USTA Southern Adult League Committee for six years.
“League is my passion,” he said. Barroso has volunteered working a site at state and sectional tournaments, as most of Southern committee members do.
He continues to play adult teams and also has participated in Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance events with the goal of fundraising. Employing his organizational skills, he is working on an LGBTQ+ event in Louisville, Ky., and hopes to expand with a tournament in Lexington.
Barroso took the initiative to spread a sign of gay pride.
“I saw someone wearing a US Open hat with a pride bar at the US Open, even though it looked like it wasn’t official,” he explained. With the support of USTA Kentucky’s Executive Director Jason Miller and Manager, Marketing and Communications Kim Lonnemann, Barroso designed a pride hat that was approved for manufacture by USTA Marketing.
More than 400 hats have been ordered by Southern and USTA offices in Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina. Lonnemann said the hats are not for sale but are being given away at Kentucky events like sectionals.
“We have more open conversations because of the hat,” Barroso said. “If it’s bringing more awareness to the USTA and its goal of being more inclusive, than it’s important.”
With changing times, Barroso said he has become a bit more vocal, even if doing so doesn’t really fit his personality.
“I have been very subtle but more vocal about me being gay and in a leadership position. I’m not a flashy person and try not to be in somebody’s face,” he said. “Anything I can do to promote the sport and to be inclusive is a plus. If we can give people a platform to be themselves and have a way to be more physically active, I’m a supporter.”