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A group of woman stood together on a tennis court, smiling at the camera, with blue sky and greenery in the background

A group of woman stood together on a tennis court, smiling at the camera, with blue sky and greenery in the background
A group of woman stood together on a tennis court, smiling at the camera, with blue sky and greenery in the background
Diversity and inclusion

Pride Month 2024: How one woman found a community through tennis in Glasgow

• 4 MINUTE READ

With LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2024 underway, celebrating LGBTQ+ communities across Britain, we spoke with one woman who, through her local LGBTQ+ tennis group in Glasgow, has discovered a new passion for tennis.

For Carolina O’Neill De Sousa E Sa, from growing up in Portugal, before moving to Edinburgh for university and now living in Glasgow, sport has always been a key part of her life. Tennis was never the number one choice, thanks to a love of football, but the sport nevertheless held a special place in her heart.

“I had some lessons when I was maybe eight or nine, but never really played after that,” Carolina said. “My dad used to play tennis though, and when I was a kid, I used to go and watch him at the weekend playing with friends, and sometimes I’d join in, that’s a really fun memory I have with my dad.”

After moving to Scotland and completing a master’s degree in Sport Policy and International Development, Carolina began working with LEAP Sport Scotland, a charity that works for greater inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in sport in Scotland. Now working for Badminton Scotland as an Inclusion Officer, and herself being a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, Carolina has always had a passion for driving inclusion.

A woman stood on a tennis court smiling at the camera, wearing a blue t-shirt with a rainbow across the front, holding a yellow tennis racket in her hands
Photo Credit: Shannon Lavery

“When I was a kid, I’d never let people who weren’t that great at sports get made fun of, not on my watch,” she explained. “So that feeling of wanting to make sure everyone’s included and welcome has always been there. Then volunteering with LEAP Sports Scotland in 2018 for the first time, that passion grew arms and legs from there, and it’s really become a part of myself.”

It was through her work with LEAP, working with grassroots clubs and initiatives, that she heard of the Weegie Whackers, formerly Pride Tennis Glasgow. Being based only a short walk from her flat in the south side of Glasgow, Carolina was curious to go along and see what this club, still in its formative stages, was all about.

“I just decided to go along in the summer. The club had just kicked off, and thought I’d give it a go, and the rest is history! I play at least two or three times a week now, which is more than I play football, which has always been my main sport.”

A welcoming environment for all

So, what was it that made Carolina go from well over a decade without picking up a racket, to playing multiple times a week?

“It helped joining in those early stages and I could help to create the values and goals of the club,” she said. “But also, Stephen [Mitchell, the club’s organiser] had just created a really welcoming environment, one that was welcoming to people of all tennis abilities, whether you’re picking up a racket for the first time, hadn’t played for a while, or had played for a long time.”

Since joining the club and discovering her passion for tennis, Carolina has now joined the committee of the club, utilising her experience of driving inclusion in grassroots sport to highlight areas for the club to focus on – including introductory sessions for women and other non-male players.

“The majority of those who were coming along were… gay or bisexual men,” said Carolina. “Everyone at the club is super welcoming, but having worked with other LGBTQ+ sports groups, that is quite a common trend. Including myself, there were maybe eight to ten women going along, with fewer being more regular members, and I felt it would be good to have more representation within the club and that we reached out to the community.

“The club has been really supportive, with people reaching out to their pals and sharing on social media, and for our first session in May, the places were all booked up in 48 hours, with a lot of sign-ups being beginners, so the demand is clearly there for people wanting to try tennis.”

The first session, delivered by a female coach and supported by Carolina and other women in the club helping out, proved a great success.

A group of people playing tennis on tennis courts. There are trees in the background and a blue, almost cloudless sky
The Weegie Whackers' first introductory session for women and other non-male players was a huge success (Photo Credit: Shannon Lavery)

“Quite a few of the participants liked it so much they want to give our usual sessions a go! We had been thinking that if we get two or three people from that session wanting to join the club or come along to another session, we’d take that as win, so honestly it couldn’t have gone any better.”

"...even just going along and seeing if it’s for you, that’s already going over a huge hurdle, and you never know, you might just find your community.”

Going forward, Carolina is keen to get more women, non-binary and transgender people into the club, delivering more introductory sessions to encourage new members to come along. The club is also going to Glasgow Pride in July for the first time, giving them a chance to promote the club even more.

Whilst Carolina is looking forward to helping the club become more visible, she is loving her own personal journey in tennis right now.

“I’d be up for doing the basic coaching qualification and help run some sessions. We're linked up with Newlands Park Community tennis as a venue and they've been really good in supporting us. But we want to try and encourage some people in the club to do some coaching badges, so definitely be up for it.

“I’m finding a lot of enjoyment from tennis and it's just a huge thrill - the winning, the losing, the friendships, everything about it just makes you want to keep playing every day.”

Carolina's love of getting out and playing sport has only by deepened by her rediscovery of tennis with the Weegie Whackers. Yet while she has found sport to be a positive environment for her, it’s not the same with everyone in LGBTQ+ communities, and she has a message for people who aren’t sure if sport is for them.

“It can be scary, daunting, intimidating, to enter a new space and one you’re not familiar with, but the majority of LGBTQ+ sports spaces out there are really welcoming and inclusive of new people coming along.

It can increase your confidence and your physical and mental wellbeing, but even just going along and seeing if it’s for you, that’s already going over a huge hurdle, and you never know, you might just find your community.”

Pride Month

If Carolina's story has inspired you to get on court, head to the Pride in Tennis website to find an LGBTQ+ tennis group near you

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