By Genny Hom-Franzen
Ensuring that the U.S. Tennis Association is fully inclusive and supportive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is the professional and personal mission of D.A. Abrams.
As chief diversity and inclusion officer at USTA, Abrams looks at diversity and inclusion as a strategy to drive and promote the growth of tennis and build fan engagement at the U.S. Open. He said his plan of attack begins with filtering everything through his diversity and inclusion lens to “make sure that the sport of tennis looks like America.”
Concentrating on six key pillars — human assets, image, supplier diversity, section/community engagement, strategic partnerships and training and development — Abrams ensures support by recommended goals and tactics when it comes to diversity and inclusion. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach, and I’m quarterbacking it from D&I,” he said.
For starters, Abrams and his staff work closely with USTA’s network of 17 regional areas throughout the country. Rather than communicating from the top down, he prefers a bottom-up approach, taking the time to listen to each area, discover what is important and find out how the diversity and inclusion office can help. This customized approach is especially critical because all communities are different and something that works for one region may not work for another.
One regional program Abrams is looking forward to this summer is the documentary “Queens at Court.” The film, by Shiv Paul, profiles the stories of adversity of four LGBT amateur tennis players who regularly compete on an international gay and lesbian tennis tour, the Gay Games and the USTA’s heterosexual tennis league. The special screenings will take place at key professional tournaments this summer and will also include a reception and panel discussion with the director and producer. The film will be screened in Toronto, Cleveland, Winston-Salem and Washington, D.C. It is a creative way to reinforce USTA’s support of the LGBT community, he said.
Another way Abrams promotes diversity and inclusion externally is through comprehensive engagement guides which are posted on USTA’s website. The guides provide useful information, reaching out to four key groups vital to the growth of tennis across the United States — African-American, Asian, Hispanic and LGBT.
From an employer standpoint, Abrams said the USTA is a “welcoming association and strongly encourages potential employees to seek opportunities here.” When he first started at USTA in 2012, there were only five employee resource groups. Under his leadership, the organization has since added two more — one for Asian employees and another for millennial employees. “All of our benefits are open to the LGBT community, and we believe it’s a plus to have them here,” he said. “This is the place you want to be in professional sports.”
As for supplier diversity, Abrams’ said his philosophy is a simple one: If you want to reach folks in all communities, it’s good to work with vendors who make up those communities. The USTA recently became a corporate partner with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which will help with outreach to LGBT companies.
Currently, USTA is developing a portal for minority and underserved companies that want to do business with it. While the portal is being beta-tested, he said LGBT vendors are welcome to directly contact him or Donna Gordon, director of diversity and inclusion. “The USTA is leading the way in outreach to the LGBT community. From a marketplace perspective, we are more than just talking. We are walking the talk,” Abrams said. Tennis legends Renee Richards, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova have paved the way in terms of showing how tennis supports the LGBT community, and Abrams says he is committed to doing much more. He added, “You can’t deliver on a mission statement without targeting the LGBT community.”