David Chen is a popular and well-known figure within the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance, playing multiple tournaments in different countries every year.
Now the circuit stalwart is reaching a larger audience. He’s among the GLTA players featured in a new film produced by the Tennis Channel which premieres Thursday to coincide with Open Pride day at the U.S. Open.
In the documentary short, Chen reveals an eye-catching pink outfit that pays tribute to two of his tennis icons.
His choice of attire and sense of fun says much about the free-and-easy spirit of the GLTA but also the seriously high affection its members hold for their sport.
“The top is the Venus Williams 1997 US Open, the bottom is the Serena Williams 2018 tutu,” explains Chen.
“I’m combining both legends into one! I want to show that it’s OK - clothings are just clothings and it’s what’s inside that counts.”
Chen is one of several contributors to the ‘TenniStory’ film who helps to chart the GLTA’s 32-year history and place into context its ongoing importance to the LGBTQ community in tennis.
There are now over 20,000 GLTA members of different abilities and backgrounds, with around 8,000 of those athletes actively participating in sanctioned events around the world.
Melbourne-based Rowen D’Souza recently took over as President and is spearheading the GLTA’s growth spurt.
There has been considerable progress Down Under. The GLTA has a strong relationship with Tennis Australia and is the driving force behind the Glam Slam, staged during the Australian Open and still the only LGBTQ tennis tournament to be held alongside a Grand Slam.
“The GLTA is tasked with providing opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ community to play tennis in an environment that is safe and is welcoming and allows people to be themselves,” he says.
“One thing that does happen with LGBTQIA+ people is that in many aspects of life, we are subconsciously or unknowingly excluded.
“All we’re doing is creating an opportunity to have an entry point. It’s not an exclusionary thing and I think people think that. Allies are absolutely welcome.”
Tu Nguyen echoes D’Souza’s comments. The Los Angeles native, who works as a UX designer, has been playing on the GLTA circuit for the last seven years.
“The GLTA provides an inclusive space for queer athletes to experience the same successes and failures that come with competitive sport that our straight friends and families have enjoyed for so long, and without fear of persecution for who they are,” they say.
“I think it really is important now more than ever.”
Marketing director Merit Lookene has been a GLTA board member for four years and has focused her efforts on encouraging more women to get involved.
She is now ready to “dream big” and says she hopes to see the number of tournaments and participants double in the next five years.
Giving back to the community is a priority too. Dan Merrithew, the former President, notes in the film that the GLTA is also a charitable organization that has donated up to $5m to LGBTQ-related charities.
With Arthur Ashe Stadium due to be illuminated in rainbow colors again on Thursday, the USTA will send out its own visible message of inclusion on its third annual Open Pride day at Flushing Meadows.
Former US soccer international Joanna Lohman was speaking at a Pride Brunch on site and U.S. Open-branded rainbow sweatbands were being made available to players.
Both of the out gay players still competing in the main draw of the women’s singles are in second-round action on Thursday.
Thirteenth seed Daria Kasatkina faces Sofia Kenin, while Greet Minnen also has an American opponent in Sachia Vickery. The Belgian will be looking to follow on from her victory over veteran Venus Williams last time out.
Meanwhile, down in Orlando at the USTA National Campus, a one-day GLTA doubles tournament is being held.
For Chen, a flight attendant whose home is in Fort Lauderdale, carving out spaces for self-expression on the court and in the stands will ensure everyone’s talents in tennis can shine.
“It’s about acceptance, it’s about family,” he says in the Tennis Channel film.
“I get emotional because I’ve been with the GLTA for more than half of my life. It’s amazing that I’ve had this family for the last 30 years to accept me for exactly who I am, making new family members from around the world.”
You can watch the Tennis Channel’s ‘TenniStory’ film about the GLTA on YouTube.