One of the things that continues to fascinate about the LGBT sports community is the diverse athletes who come together to form families. Shiv Paul has captured just that in his tennis documentary, “Queens at Court.”
The film follows four players from the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA) over the course of eight months, both on and off the court. The four players represent the wide spectrum of athletes on the tour. Featured in the film is a military veteran, a transsexual, a cross-cultural player and an overweight player.
The GLTA sponsors about 65 tournaments throughout the world and its membership is in excess of 8,000 players. Here in D.C., the Capital Tennis Association hosts one of the tournaments, the Capital Classic and one of its players, Chip Hines, is spotlighted in the film.
Paul was born in India and grew up in the market town of Epsom in England. His father introduced him to tennis at age 7 and enrolled him in local tennis schools. He left the sport behind while attending the University of Glasgow and after arriving in New York in 2006, he discovered the GLTA.
“I didn’t have much social structure when I moved to the United States,” Paul says. “I joined the local LGBT rugby, volleyball and tennis teams, but it was the tennis community that pulled me in.”
Paul’s first GLTA tournament was in New Orleans and he was fascinated and taken by the fact that the GLTA even existed. Subsequently he attended his first Gay Games in Cologne in 2010 and it was there that he initially felt the need to document the environment.
“I was completely surprised by the competitive nature of the Gay Games in Cologne,” Paul says. “It was a bigger and more meaningful experience than I was expecting. I love that LGBT sports allows people to return to a sport where they may not have been competitive.”
He began making the documentary about the GLTA athletes but as filming progressed, he realized it was more about adversity and exploring how athletes find their “sense of self.”
He didn’t intend to be one of the subjects of the film but at several of the screenings, the audience members insisted he shed some light on himself.
“It only seemed fair that I tell my own story since I was asking others to share their journey,” he says.
“Queens at Court” premiered in New York City at the Sage Center and in attendance at the event was the head of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Diversity & Inclusion Program, D.A. Abrams. He arranged a screening for the USTA staff in White Plains, N.Y., and they agreed to screen the film at three stops on the Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series, a series of hard court tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open.
“Queens at Court” was seen at the Washington, Toronto and Winston-Salem tournaments in the Series this summer.
Bob Koch, president of the Capital Tennis Association, was at the screening in D.C. at the Citi Open and says, “‘Queens at Court’ provides a neat snapshot into the LGBT tennis community. We are a tight-knit, welcoming and supportive group and the film captures that sense of community. The fact that the USTA was streaming the film serves to show their willingness to be inclusive.”
Paul, a recent Gay Games bronze medalist in tennis, says going forward he would like to coach workshops on promoting self-awareness, diversity and inclusion. He’s part of a team that is working with the Trevor Project on educational issues involving the transgender community such as finding the financial means needed to pay for reassignment surgery.
“It is cool to be part of something that results in change,” he says.
Members of the GLTA tennis community will be playing at the Capital Classic XXII on Sept. 13-15 in Washington.