The 2020 Australian Open starts tomorrow. As a long-term tennis fan, it is one of my favourite times of the year (although sadly I won’t be there in person this time around). As a long-term LGBTI advocate, however, I am not looking forward to the next fortnight – primarily because there will be considerable attention on a certain former Australian women’s tennis player.
Not just because the third largest court is named after her, but also because this year marks the 50th anniversary of her calendar-year grand slam – which was, admittedly, a remarkable achievement (for context, only one singles player, male or female, has repeated this feat in the half-century since: Steffi Graf in 1988).
Given we won’t be able to avoid this topic in the days ahead, I thought I would share my perspective on what should happen when Tennis Australia commemorates Margaret Court’s accomplishment, and why they should permanently remove her name from Margaret Court Arena.
I should start by saying what this is not about. It’s not about her opposition to marriage equality. Despite seeking to discriminate against LGBTI couples under secular law, she was entitled to her opinion, no matter how wrong it was (and thankfully the majority of Australians decided she was indeed very wrong).
On the other hand, it is about Margaret Court being a vocal opponent of the equalisation of the age of consent in Western Australia in 2002 (which is actually when, as a queer activist at university, I first came across her bigoted views). For those who don’t know, she literally campaigned for young gay and bisexual men, aged 16 to 20, to remain subject to criminalisation, including the threat of imprisonment, simply because of who they were.
That, to me, went beyond the pale. This was not simply a difference in policy – she used her position of influence in political debate to target vulnerable members of our community. That incident alone should be sufficient to mean she is not celebrated by Tennis Australia – or indeed anyone with a conscience.
Although unfortunately it was not the last time Margaret Court would attack LGBT young people. As recently as three weeks ago, she reportedly described trans kids as being the work of the devil (“That LGBT in the schools, it’s of the devil, it’s not of God… you know when children are making the decision at seven or eight years of age to change their sex. Just read the first two chapters of Genesis, that’s all I say. God made male and female”).
Court’s list of tennis records might be long, but her record of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic statements is much, much longer (noting that these are just a couple of examples out of many I could have chosen).
Of course, some people might respond by saying that the above actions are unrelated to tennis, and she should be judged solely on her sporting career. The only problem with this defence is that she has an equally lengthy history of anti-LGBT prejudice in relation to tennis.
As far back as 1990, Court criticised out lesbian champion Martina Navratilova (“a great player but I’d like someone at the top who the young players can look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality. Martina is a nice person. Her life has just gone astray”) and famously said that lesbians were ruining tennis.
In the three decades since, her views have not evolved, although who she attacks has – Margaret Court now adds trans tennis players, and trans women athletes in particular – to her growing list of targets (“ And you know with that LGBT, they’ll wish they never put the T on the end of it because, particularly in women’s sports, they’re going to have so many problems”).
But, out of the many hateful and hurtful ‘contributions’ Margaret Court has made to public life over the years, there is one that stands out in my memory, for all the wrong reasons. In 2013, following the birth of Casey Dellacqua and her partner Amanda Judd’s first child, Margaret Court wrote the following newspaper letter to the editor:
Fathers for babies
The article (Dellacqua, partner welcome baby boy, 29/8) rightly celebrates the birth of a child. Yet it is with sadness that I see that this baby has seemingly been deprived of his father.
If we continue to dismantle the traditional family unit as old fashioned, archaic and no longer even necessary or relevant, we will create a fatherless generation.
Indeed, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred as the march towards such partnerships, even gay marriage, is fuelled by minority voices rising in opposition to respected Christian beliefs which many cultures also believe.
For the person who is birthed with no exposure, or even acknowledgement, of their natural dad there will always remain questions as to their identity and background.
Personally, I have nothing against Casey Dellacqua or her “partner”.
I simply want to champion the rights of the family over the rights of the individual to engineer social norms and produce children into their relationships.
As a patron of the Australian Family Association, I really want to see a society where traditional family values are still celebrated and every child has the best possible start in life.
Margaret Court, Victory Life Centre
Note this was not simply an expression of her views about ‘rainbow families’ in general, it was specific criticism of one such family in particular. It was a pre-meditated attack on a couple at a time when they should have been celebrating something precious and wonderful, not being subjected to unfair commentary because of their sexual orientation.
And, contrary to Court’s protestations (‘I have nothing against Casey Dellacqua or her “partner”’), the use of scare quotes there says everything you need to know about her level of disrespect towards them.
Nor can this episode be divorced from Court’s tennis career. The letter was written by a former Australian tennis player, about a then-current Australian player – and this context was no doubt influential in ensuring it was published.
The truth is that, as much as Margaret Court was a champion on the tennis court, she has been the exact opposite off it. And, because of her actions – including the attack on Casey Dellacqua and her family – it is impossible to separate the two.
That is why, whenever Tennis Australia chooses to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Margaret Court’s calendar grand slam during the next fortnight, I hope the crowd at Melbourne Park (respectfully) turn their backs on her. And if she is given the opportunity to speak, I hope they cover their ears too – because she has abused far too many platforms, over far too many years, to demean and denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians.
It is also why she should not be named above the third largest court there. While Court may have been a tennis star in the 1960s and 1970s, everything she has done since means she has nothing to offer in the 2020s and beyond (she is definitely not a role model for the current generation of players – ask yourself, have you ever heard any Australian player, including our recent champions Sam Stosur and Ash Barty, say they look up to Margaret Court? Definitely not).
What makes this decision even easier is that there is such a clear alternative. A seven-time major winner in singles, and former world number one, from the 1970s and 1980s. An Aboriginal champion, who used her post-playing career to give back to Aboriginal young people (her Companion of the Order of Australia recognised her “eminent service to tennis as a player at the national and international level, [and] as an ambassador, supporter and advocate for the health, education and wellbeing of young Indigenous people through participation in sport, and as a role model”).
Once the 2020 Australian Open wraps up on Sunday February 2, it’s time to take down the signage for Margaret Court Arena, and put up a new name in its place: Evonne Goolagong Cawley Arena.