This year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York will be business as usual when it comes to the number of out LGBT players — a couple of women and no men.
When action starts Monday. there will be two open lesbians competing: Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium, who plays Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, and Johanna Larsson of Sweden, who plays Alize Cornet. Van Uytvanck, ranked 39, finished in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon, but she has never won a match at the U.S. Open.
Conny Perrin of Switzerland, lost in the qualifying round to Danielle Lao of the U.S. Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherland, who played at the French Open, is skipping the U.S, Open. Both Perrin and Hogenkamp are openly gay.
There has never been an out gay man competing in men’s professional tennis in the modern era and only one who has come out as gay after retiring, American Brian Vahaly. In an interview with the London Telegraph, Vahaly detailed some of the reasons men have stayed closeted.
“On the men’s side homosexuality is a subject that’s just not spoken about very much. We have no examples, no-one to look to. Part of the journey of understanding your own sexuality is learning to be honest with yourself. I had a very clear picture of who I wanted to be and the life I wanted to live. My Catholic faith was a big part of that - I even went to religious meetings where the message was ‘pray the gay away’.
”My exposure to the gay community had always been very limited and what I knew of it I didn’t connect to. Until I retired I just didn’t allow myself to explore my sexuality. ... “I heard homophobic comments all the time in the locker room - to my face, behind my back. That was just a part of the culture.”
Vahaly last played in 2007 and says the sport is now more accepting of gay players. He says has been in touch with some pro male players and about 30 from the college or junior ranks who are struggling with whether to come out.
“My message to gay players who reach out to me is that now would be a great time to come out. There’s so much more acceptance, and many gay athletes have done very well financially so that fear of losing sponsorships has gone away slightly.
”Above all, I want to do everything I can to make it as easy as possible so they don’t have that potential distraction and secret that I kept towards the end of my career.”
Vahaly has become an important voice on this subject and I hope that some man will heed his advice soon. Until that time, LGBT fans can root on Van Uytvanck and Larsson.