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Gay tennis players from across the globe face off in Toronto

The annual tournament is one of the largest of its kind

Credit: Mike Watson Images/moodboard/Thinkstock

Tyrone Andres lives for tennis.

The 36-year-old Australian who has been playing for the majority of his life, describes his practice as “religious” and works for Tennis Australia, the organization responsible for the Australian Open tennis tournament. And this spring, Andres will be bringing his passion to Toronto to play in the largest gay tennis tournament in Canada.

“I’m doing what I love,” Andres says.

And he isn’t alone.

From May 19 to 22, more than 170 LGBT tennis players will gather in Toronto for the 23rd annual Canadian Gay Open (CGO) presented by Babolat.

“From a North American perspective, we are definitely in the top tier,” says Tommy Trinh, director of the tournament.

The sold-out competition is sanctioned by the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA) World Tour and is one of close to 70 similar events around the world. Over the course of three days, players compete in singles and doubles matches, showcasing their talent in an inclusive setting.

“We give an environment that feels safe and welcoming for like-minded people who love tennis,” Trinh says.

Homophobia in sport is well-documented, from slurs in the locker room to outright physical assault. Out in the Field, the first international analysis on homophobia in sport, found that 81 percent of gay men surveyed had witnessed or experienced some form of homophobia in sports. Additionally, half of the gay men and a third of the gay women interviewed said they kept their sexuality hidden from their teammates.

This inherent fear built into organized sport has also been identified as a barrier to many — especially queer youth — from participating in athletics. But events like the CGO strive to remove these barriers.

“It then doesn’t become about the fear of discrimination; it becomes about the sport itself,” Andres says. This creates an arena where people can be truly competitive without focusing unnecessary attention on hiding or navigating their sexuality.

With five divisions based on skill level, participants can find a place that best suits their mastery of the game: from the open level — reserved for the best, to the D-division — jokingly referred to as the “boyfriend division” since many of these players come along to support their partners and primarily play for fun.

And while some come to these tournaments with partners, many find love on the court in more ways than one: both Trinh and Andres met their current partners playing in GLTA tournaments.

“There’s a huge social component,” Trinh says, with many participants forming strong, lasting bonds over their shared love of the sport.

There is also a deeply philanthropic aspect to the CGO. Since 2003, over $8,000 has been raised and donated to the Doug Philpott Inner-City Children’s Tennis Fund, which provides free tennis lessons to children in need. This year, proceeds from the banquet’s charity raffle will go to the AIDS Committee of Toronto.

According to Trinh, CGO is more than just another athletic competition; it’s a transformative experience that pushes LGBT individuals into an arena to make it all their own.

“It’s about lifelong friendships, physical challenge and cultivating a global network around a unifying passion.”