Fairly open-ended dialogue can lead to something short of magic.
Timed to the US Open, an inaugural, energetic event took place on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 22. Titled "Love All: An Open Conversation," it arrived on the heels of three sibling events, at 2019's Australian Open and Wimbledon, and 2018's US Open–adjacent kickoff convo in downtown New York.
The event featured the presence and power of voices including a "Come As You Are" T-shirt sporting Billie Jean King; Olympic-medalist figure skater/celeb-at-large Adam Rippon; retired ATP player Brian Vahaly, now a USTA board member; retired NBA player Jason Collins, the first in one of the four major sports to come out while an active pro; retired Major League Baseball player Billy Bean, whose own disclosure came 20 years ago; and current WTA players (and couple) Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, said to be "the first out lesbian couple to team up" in pro tennis.
US Open Pride ????????@NickMcCarvel hosts "Love All—An Open Conversation” featuring @BillieJeanKing, @jasoncollins98, @adaripp and more LGBT sports leaders.— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 22, 2019
Stream ➡️ https://t.co/G9jfei932G pic.twitter.com/lHIrL45d8n
The conversation, broadcast live on the US Open's Facebook account, was the latest in the series of #LGBTennis brainchildren from tennis writer and presenter Nick McCarvel. Such showings are now powered all the more by local tournaments—from Miami to Toronto—and organizing partners including King's leadership initiative and the season's final Grand Slam, which lent the Chase Center space.
The big-tent gusto was palpable both for those in-room and viewing on Facebook, and the same held true for the on-stage camaraderie. Afterward, McCarvel told Baseline, "If we want to make change, if we want to see a big change in tennis, it has to be a community effort."
Verbal volleying the name of this game, largely thanks to the sharp-witted King and Rippon. Salient points abounded as well, with each player hitting their marks on the mic.
"We wanted to show the world how happy we are," Van Uytvanck said of kissing Minnen after a 2019 Wimbledon doubles match. "And we were like, we're lesbians, and who cares? We are the same as everybody else ... and we hope we can inspire others to come out on their own tempo."
"It was a bigger step to tell our families than the world," Minnen chimed in, sharing that locker-room reception was warm, or at the least, kind to the pair when they emerged as a couple.
The "Love All" event arrived at a pivotal time in the United States, and abroad. While the current U.S. administration seeks to roll back various rights and opportunities for the country's LGBTQ citizens—among them, the ability of transgender individuals to join the military—leaders and straight, cisgender people in many parts of the world at large continue to grapple with how to practice tolerance for, if not openly embrace, LGBTQ people.
When I emailed @bvahaly just over a year ago to do our first #LGBTennis event ahead of the 2018 @usopen I had no idea what I was getting myself into... only that I wanted to *start* a conversation. Thursday night that convo reached a roar as more than 400 people attended the first-ever #LGBTQ event at the Open. Brian, @billiejeanking, @billysbeans, @jasoncollins_98, @alison_van_uytvanck, @greetjeminnen and @adaripp were treated like rockstars by the energetic crowd in attendance, then treated us to poignant, personal, funny, sobering, we-can-do-this dialogue about the challenges for queer athletes, coming out and inclusion. As Billie says, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” HUGE thanks to @michaelfiur @fiurproductions and the @usta for making this happen. On we go ????❤️???? (???? @mikelawrencesports)
In over 70 countries, it remains illegal to be LGBTQ and to have same-sex relationships. In headline-catalyzing news earlier this year, the sultan of Brunei changed his country's law to make same-sex relations punishable by death.
This is regress. This still involves dozens of countries. This is 2019.
"Progress and change makes people uncomfortable," said Bean, who noted that, had he known Collins or another out American athlete at the time of his late-1990s coming out, or during his MLB playing days, his experience would have been far different. Bean also shared that his partner died due to HIV/AIDS in the '90s, a fraught time for LGBTQ health care when tens of thousands of people succumbed to that disease.
Generational change also trended in this dialogue. "My lawyer and my PR person told me not to tell the truth," King said of the arguments she had with her own advisors ahead of making coming-out statements to the early-1980s press.
Bean inserted his perspective there, saying, "Women's tennis is unique in the fact that two on [its] Mount Rushmore came out before there was even a conversation about it," praising King and Martina Navratilova.
The Botox-quipping Rippon, with eyes on King, Collins and Bean, said that his 2018 Olympic persona was, in part, crafted on the backs of seeing other athletes go before him in the spotlight, and that he had time to prepare for a media onslaught: "I got the unwavering confidence [to come out and to compete as my authentic self] truly from the people up here on this stage."
"It comes down at the end of the day to what kind of human being you are," Collins shared, noting elsewhere in the conversation that he onboards freshman NBA players to matters of LGBTQ inclusion. "The NBA is a fraternity, it's a family environment, and family extends your arms to embrace."
Surefire signs of growth and understanding show themselves, year over year and quite recently. Among them:
- Maligned in 1999, even by peers, for her muscular playing style and physique after reaching the Australian Open women's singles final, Amelie Mauresmo now enjoys a hero's welcome in New York and access to places where you might not think she would appear.
- Kevin Anderson, who grew up in apartheid-torn South Africa and knows of friction and turmoil based on differences, spoke at Wimble-time about hopes for headway toward welcoming to an out player in ATP locker rooms the world over.
- Martina Navratilova recently presented a documentary focusing on transgender athletes, and the trans community in general, with which she has a complicated history.
- Kelley O'Hara, a U.S. Women's National Team star, kissed her girlfriend at a World Cup game this summer.
And the beat goes on. In King's words, "We've thrown shame out the window."
With this well-attended showing, the US Open showed that it's on the right side of human history, as with previous events on the annual ATP, WTA and Grand Slam calendars in the past few years that also seek to inclusively promote the sport.
"We had an amazing event last year, but I wanted to do it here," Vahaly told USOpen.org. "I wanted to do it on the sport's biggest and grandest stage. I said, 'It's time. I really want to do this Pride event,' and within 24 hours, we got the ball rolling."
Van Uytvanck spoke movingly about hoping a star ATP player would soon come out, which no such active pro has done to date: "I want male players who would come out [to be] easy, and it would have an impact."
King shared that sentiment, also noting that "when you come out to someone, give them time. ... My mom and dad needed the same amount of time that I needed to get over my pain."
That works in 1981, and it stands to reason in 2019 as well. Within that, and the spectrum of LGBTQ identity and community at large, nuances and diversities within a diversity can be acknowledged—and celebrated.
What this "Love All" event and these examples show is that it's best to move through life as one who proverbially pays it forward. That's the case whether one is straight or gay, cisgender or transgender/non-binary, out or not. In the end, it may be that love can conquer anything and everything. It certainly welcomes all.
Wake up every morning with Tennis Channel Live at the US Open, starting at 8 a.m. ET. For three hours leading up to the start of play, Tennis Channel's team will break down upcoming matches, review tournament storylines and focus on everything Flushing Meadows.
Tennis Channel's encore, all-night match coverage will begin every evening at 11 p.m. ET, with the exception of earlier starts on Saturday and Sunday of championship weekend.