LGBT Pride Month: On Court with L.A. Tennis Association

In 1978, a group of tennis players in West Hollywood convened to organize tennis matches among friends. More than a decade later, that group had long since launched the idea of creating a league for players of all levels, attracting more than 600 members to The Los Angeles Tennis Association (LATA). As demand grew, LATA conducted organized play every single night of the week and represented the largest gay and lesbian sports organization in the world.

Tennis has long been an attractive sport to LGBT athletes, perhaps based in part on the emergence of inspiring and successful female athletes in what is often a male-dominated sports landscape. It also allows reserved, shy, or even closeted players to excel in a single player format, away from the pressures of team sports and acceptance. Regardless of what creates the appeal, tennis is an immensely popular sport within the LGBT community, with faces like Billie Jean King, Amelie Mauresmo, Gigi Fernandez, and Martina Navratilova at the forefront not just of LGBT athletes, but among the few who are openly, publicly identified as gay.

In Los Angeles and throughout the country, LGBT sports leagues are plentiful and provide athletic and social opportunities for not just tennis players, but also soccer, kickball, softball, volleyball, billiards, and even darts players. The social aspect, according to LATA’s Paul Yates, is often the biggest draw for new tennis league members.

“A lot of people play for social reasons,” Yates says, noting that all players have the opportunity to learn and compete within their given skill level. “Beginners play with other beginners. It’s how I started. You meet people, and work your way up with those people. Tennis and social interaction are a great combination.”

Yates believes the strongest aspect of volunteer-run LATA are its leagues, including singles, doubles, and team tennis of varying skill levels from Beginner to “A” (4.5+). A Challenger ladder also runs throughout the year, with various events and prizes offered. For beginners, clinics are available and taught by some of the league’s more advanced players.

Where LATA excels is within team competition associated with its Cup series, a Davis Cup-style of play pitting Los Angeles talents against those from the western coast and beyond. The Cal Cup, started thirty years ago as a regional LGBT open tennis competition, is a team tennis showdown between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. Team LA has won half – that’s 15 of 30! – of the Cal Cup competitions since the tournament’s inception.

The Pac Cup adds players from Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland in an event designed for those who did not qualify for the Cal Cup. And the West Coast Cup is a similar competition for those hovering around intermediate play level. This August, LATA will launch its inaugural “Gold Cup” competition, giving all active players an opportunity to compete at team level. “The Gold Cup gives a broader group of people a chance to compete,” says Yates of the upcoming August event.

“Teams practice together, travel together, and play against other cities,” he adds. “(The Cups) are the most amazing things I’ve seen grow.”

Today, with the advent of social media and ease of communication, membership has dropped even as the scope of competition and events continues to grow. According to Yates, players simply find it easier to email, group text, or use meet-up sites to organize games without joining organizations like LATA. Yet the opportunity to meet new players, travel in team competition, and represent Los Angeles in nationwide tournaments is an increasingly valuable perk. For those who’ve never picked up a racquet, or others who have played since childhood, LATA offers the LGBT community – and the community at large –  a chance to experience all the finer points of athletic competition among friends old and new.

Celebrate LGBT Pride, diversity, and inclusion throughout the month of June!


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