Reports that controversial former tennis player Margaret Court will be honoured with Australia’s highest honour – the Companion of the Order of Australia, has invited a fierce backlash from the LGBTQI community and allies. 

Court , who has won 24 Grand Slam titles, was previously awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1967 and Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2007. Since her retirement from tennis , Court, has been a minister with the Pentecostal Church. Court preaches at Perth’s Margaret Court Ministries, that she founded, and now uses the title ‘Reverend’. Courthas been criticised for making abhorrent comments about conversion practices, against the LGBTQI community and in opposition of same sex marriage. 

Scott Morrison and Daniel Andrews: Opposing Views

Prime Minister Scott Morrison when asked about the decision that Court will be honoured with the award on Australia Day, termed the reports as “speculative”. Morrison told reporters that he could not comment on an award “that is done through an independent process that hasn’t been announced or I have no official knowledge of those things.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, however, did not hold back and called out Court for her “disgraceful, bigoted” views. Andrews, when asked by the media at a press conference about the award for Court, said he did not support honouring the player. 

“I do not support that. You know my views on a whole range of issues. I’m being honest with you, I do not support that.

“I don’t believe that she has views that accord with the vast majority of people across our nation that see people particularly from the LGBTIQ community as equal and deserving of dignity, respect and safety. I don’t believe she shares those views and I don’t believe she should be honoured because of that.” 

 Andrews refused to even mention Court by her name. 

“I’m quite sick of talking about that person every summer… We finish up having this discussion in one form or another every single summer. I would prefer not to be giving oxygen to some of those views,” the Victorian Premier said. 

Later he reiterated his views on Twitter: “I don’t want to give this person’s disgraceful, bigoted views any oxygen. But when others insist on rewarding them with this country’s highest honour – I think it’s worth saying again. Grand Slam wins don’t give you some right to spew hatred and create division. Nothing does.”

Australia Day Honour For Margaret Court

The news about the award for Court was first broken by Melbourne-based writer and broadcaster Justin Smith. He said that the decision to give her this honour puts “humanity at large and Australia in reverse.”

Court Has A History of Homophobia & Transphobia

Sydney-based academic and historian Garry Wotherspoon questioned Australia’s highest honour for someone like Court who has promoted hate speech against the community. 

“Court is set for promotion to Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). And yet this is someone who issues hate speech against the LGBTQI communities,” Wotherspoon told Star Observer. 

Wotherspoon who has chronicled the city of Sydney and Australia’s gay community, pointed out that Court has a history of anti-gay and anti-trans rhetoric. 

In 2017, during the national vote on same-sex marriages, Court said that marriage equality would end Christmas and that she would boycott Qantas for the organisation’s support for same-sex marriages. That same year she went on to allegedly compare the LGBTQI community to Hitler and falsely suggest that people were gay because of childhood abuse.

 In 2013 Court had targeted openly lesbian Australian tennis player Casey Dellacqua and her family, comprising of her partner Amanda Judd and their two children

Last year, Court made transphobic comments against trans children and trans athletes

Wotherspoon referred to Court’s ABC interview where she played the victim card by claiming she was being persecuted for what the Bible says about things.

“I look forward to Mrs Court’s views on the banking industry. Her Bible says that money should not be lent at interest, but I haven’t heard her condemn the various banks… yet,” quipped Wotherspoon. 

‘Rename Margaret Court Arena’

The news about the honour for Court was “disturbing” said Melbourne-based human rights activist and podcaster Antek Benedyka. Benedyka identifies as gender queer and is part of the campaign seeking the renaming of Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena. The online campaign ‘Court Out, Love All has asked Tennis Australia to rename the arena after three-time Australian Open winner Evonne Goolagong or just ‘Love All’.  

Last year it was reported that Court and her husband had used their Pentecostal Church in Perth to set up a consulate for the Republic of Burundi. The Burundi regime has persecuted LGBTQI people, has been accused of torturing, using sexual violence against those opposing it, and carrying out summary executions. 

“What’s happened with this award is really, not appropriate… We are talking about somebody who has associated with war criminals, because they don’t like LGBTQI people. We should not be honouring people who have openly disrespected and disenfranchised people. It is quite disturbing really,” said Benedyka indicating that the campaign to rename the Margaret Court arena will intensify as the Australian Open is set to commence in Melbourne from February 8, 2021.

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

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