When Ian Pearson-Brown was growing up, he didn’t think it was possible to play sports and be gay. When he came out years later, he was relieved to find out he was totally wrong.
Nowadays, Brown is spreading the gospel: Sports are for gay people, too. The beloved coach is dedicating his life to LGBTQ inclusion in his favorite sport, tennis.
“When I came out in sport and I realized that, actually, it can be an environment where people can thrive as their authentic selves, I felt the need to give something back to a sport that I felt had saved my life through the dark times,” he wrote in an essay for the Lawn Tennis Association’s website (LTA is the national governing body on tennis in Great Britain).
Brown is the founder of Pride in Tennis, a network of LGBTQ tennis players, coaches and officials in Great Britain. Its mission is to show that tennis is accessible to everyone.
That’s especially important to Brown, who credits tennis with saving his life. Three months after realizing he was gay, Brown attempted suicide — at 13 years old. He felt disassociated from himself.
“When it dawned on me that I was gay, I felt that my body was at odds with my brain, with my mind, and my environment,” he writes. “I thought ‘I can’t be gay; I do sports, I’m from the Northeast, I have these types of friends around me, and I do these types of activities.’”
Back in the 80s, there were few out LGBTQ role models in sports. While tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King were the first active athletes in the U.S. to come out publicly, there weren't any examples on the men’s side.
There is still a dearth of out male pro tennis players today (the women’s side isn’t much better, either).
That’s what makes Brown’s work so vital. He didn’t know he would be accepted as an out gay person in tennis until he tried it.
When he did, it was life-saving.
“I don’t know where I would have been without that bubble of joy that I had at the tennis club when I was able to play on court freely, and just go and release all my pent-up stress by going down to the court and hitting a couple of shots in the fresh air with my friends,” he writes. “So, by opening tennis up to people from different backgrounds, we could improve everybody’s mental health.”
That’s what Brown tries to do every day.
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