TORONTO, Canada - On a day featuring an already stacked order of play - with Serena Williams and Simona Halep slated to make their singles debuts - tennis fans had even more reason to come out to the Aviva Centre for the Rogers Cup’s revamped LGBTQ Pride celebration.

Taglined “Tennis is for Everyone”, the event is part of a weeklong schedule packed full of fan engagement activities. For event organizers, visibility for the LGBTQ community was the top priority for Wednesday’s Pride celebration.

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“We’ve definitely celebrated LGBTQ Pride at Rogers Cup in the past, but I knew we could do a lot better,” said Tennis Canada’s Jeff Donaldson, who spearheaded the event. “For me, it’s all about visibility. I think that’s just the essential thing… It’s important to show that tennis is a friendly space for the LGBTQ community, because sport hasn’t always been that in the past.”

In order to bring visibility to the forefront, the Rogers Cup partnered with North American non-profit You Can Play, whose mission is to eradicate homophobia in sport by “ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

“We have a great partner in You Can Play,” Donaldson said. “They do a lot of work with the NHL, NBA, MLB… they’re in every sport, but they didn’t have any hands in tennis yet.”

You Can Play set up a booth at the Aviva Centre, where they worked to educate tournament-goers on their initiatives as well as “creating a really cool space for the LGBTQ community on site”. They also handed out plenty of free tennis wristbands in rainbow colors, provided by partner Fila.

In support of the Rogers Cup and You Can Play’s efforts, WTA4Love also donated $1,000 to the non-profit as a part of its charitable efforts in Toronto. 

“As proud advocates for equality in sport, we are thrilled to see LGBTQ inclusion being celebrated at the Rogers Cup,” said Ann Austin, WTA Senior Director of Community Development. “Tennis really is a sport for everyone, and we support You Can Play’s mission to promote respect and inclusion for players, coaches and fans worldwide.” 

Fans visit You Can Play's booth at the Rogers Cup. (Peter Power/Tennis Canada)

The event is part of a larger movement within tennis that has seen the LGBTQ community enjoy a more visible presence within the sport, thanks in part to continued grassroots efforts and more recent ‘Pride’ themed events at tournaments: during the US Open Series, San Jose, Toronto and Cincinnati have all included ‘Pride Days’ in their event calendars. And during US Open Fan Week, the “Open Pride” event at Louis Armstrong Stadium will include a panel discussion featuring Billie Jean King, Jason Collins, Brian Vahaly, Adam Rippon and Billy Bean.

“Tennis is such a beautiful sport, and it’s actually for everyone,” said tennis journalist Nick McCarvel, who has organized various events and panels around the tennis calendar under the #LGBTennis social media hashtag. 

“I think that having these events is important because tennis has great queer roots… This is a sport that has lead the way, in a lot of ways, in the LGBTQ movement, especially the sporting LGBTQ movement.”

Donaldson echoed that sentiment, adding, “There’s no reason that a tennis tournament - especially a Canadian tournament, we’re pretty proud of being a progressive country - shouldn’t be leading the charge on this.”