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Vancouver’s gay tennis league celebrates 25 years on the courts

Club hosts annual VIP tennis tournament on Pride weekend

Vancouver’s gay tennis club turns 25 this year and members say that, though a lot has changed in the past quarter-century, there’s still good reason for LGBT-focused sports groups.

The Vancouver Tennis Association (VTA) emerged from the Gay Games here in 1990. Bud Foley, who was tournament director for tennis at the games, spurred the formation of the VTA, which was taken on by Sean Lung and Harry Mugford.

Since then, it has grown into one of the most active groups in the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance, the international body that coordinates a circuit of tourneys worldwide almost every week of the year.

But do gay people still need a league of our own?

“In a word, yes,” says Harry Young, who is in his second year as the club’s president. But he stresses that the group is entirely inclusive. “Certainly we do want to still identify ourselves as a sports club for GLBT people first and then, if you’re okay with that, we’ll take you too.”

The club was an ideal way for Young to reintegrate into the community being away from Vancouver for 20 years.

“I didn’t know that many people here,” he says. “For the first couple of years it was probably the major part of my outside-work life. It was Friday nights and I would sort of look forward to it every week.”

The club has plenty of opportunities for play, with intermediate doubles sessions Friday and Sunday evenings, advanced sessions on Mondays, an annual Pride weekend tournament, and a “singles ladder” where you can always find someone to hook up with on the court. The club operates year-round, with indoor tennis in winter, but Young says the summer venue is a huge bonus.

“The setting is so fantastic — the tennis courts at Stanley Park — they’re just gorgeous,” he says.

In addition to tennis, the club usually hosts a monthly social event, maybe featuring dim sum or dinner or other sports like lawn bowling.

The Vancouver International Pride (VIP) tennis tournament runs through Pride weekend and is part of a startlingly huge tennis circuit that includes competitions in Spain, Poland, Bali and cities all over North America. The VIP tourney, which began in 2000, usually attracts players from Seattle and Portland but sometimes from much further afield, says Young.

Brian Bella has been in the club for more than 20 years and says it’s where he met most of his friends. He’s been on the board for about half that time and served as president for three years.

“You get to play something you love and you’re part of a community that you also love,” says Bella, who is emphatic that gay sports is still a valuable thing. “The world changes but it still doesn’t change enough. Any time there is still bullying, it means we still have to have a club like the VTA.”

As an example of the club’s inclusiveness, he says the VIP tournament’s first winner of the A-level men’s single title, in 2000, was a woman from the Netherlands. He also notes that some members of the Stanley Park Tennis Club have jumped the net to join the VTA because of its reputation for fun, organization and multiple opportunities for play.

Sally Shamai has been in the club for 15 years or so and plays two or three times a week. She laughs at the way a gay tennis club subverts the usual “coming out” narrative.

“It’s just so nice to go to a club to play and know that everybody assumes you’re gay,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about being out or all those questions. It’s just comfortable that way. Having said that, it’s open to straight people too, but then they can deal with that. We don’t have to.”

She does have a criticism though. “It’s mostly guys. We do need more women in the VTA.”

She suspects that some women might not want to play against men.

“If women are scared about playing with the guys because of their level, there’s all levels of guy players, so you can play at your level,” she says, adding that the $45 a year membership fee and a few bucks per game makes it an affordable and healthy pastime.