Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Rainbow Connection

Margaret Court is an Australian sporting legend. She has won every grand slam tennis title on the same year, on her way to 24 grand slam victories. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979, she’s had her face on a stamp, and has a major tennis stadium in Melbourne Park named after her…at least for now.

And now, at almost seventy years old, she is still as determined as ever, even at the risk of undermining her deserved reputation as a great Aussie. It seems that her faith is very much out of step with modern society (just typing ‘modern societies’ makes me wonder if we’ve all time-warped back to the 1950s).
Put simply, Margaret Court has a problem with homosexuality, and she’ll take her beliefs out and shake them all around in public. In 1990, she said that Martina Navratilova and other lesbian tennis players would ruin tennis and were a bad example to younger players, and she’s been singing from that hymnbook – literally – ever since.
Ms Court became a minister in the 1980s, and founded her own pentecostal church, known as the Margaret Court Ministries. She even has her own Christian television programme, “A Life Of Victory”. Past retirement age, Pastor Court is still working as a minister in Perth, and she is still preaching the evils of being gay.
In 2012, we’re seeing great progress being made in the area of gay rights, a journey which would have been further down the road to completion were it not for that pesky AIDS thing… but here we are. Queensland and the ACT have passed laws in favour of civil unions. Most other Australian states have partnership registries and equal rights for gay de facto partners. In a Morgan poll in mid 2011, 68% of respondents supported same-sex marriage. It’s on the agenda, and with the ALP voting in their national conference last month to allow a conscience vote on the issue, it may be a reality sooner than we think.
Back in December 2011, Margaret Court’s response to the issue was to state on the record that “Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take".
Uhoh. The gay community and its many supporters were not happy. So unhappy, in fact, that they are calling for people attending the Australian Open Tennis, particularly those watching games in the Margaret Court Arena, to wave rainbow flags in support of gay rights.
And now we’re into a debate about free speech. Pastor Court has suggested that she is being discriminated against because she is a Christian. From her perspective, all sorts of minority groups are encouraged to speak out, but she is not.
Balderdash. Hogwash. Malarkey. Crap. What a load of old cobblers’…
Let’s talk about this, starting with her assertion that she is not allowed to speak out. Margaret Court has as much right as anyone else – and better opportunity than most - to say whatever she wants to say, and ensure that it is heard. She has her pulpit at the Victory Life Centre Church in Perth. She has her own television show, which I believe is broadcast on the Australian Christian Television network (available on Foxtel). She has two websites: and  On top of that, she is still regarded as one of Australia’s all-time greatest sports stars. If she wants to call a press conference, issue a statement or make an appearance, she can do that, and the media will attend.
Let’s compare that to a fairly normal person like, say, me. I have this blog, plus active accounts on Twitter and Facebook. I can talk to family, friends, and the people I work with, leave comments at online media news sites, and if I’m really steamed, I can call a talkback radio station and have a little shout. Ms Court really can’t claim that she has no avenue through which to say her piece.
Did you catch the irony there? The comment about not being able to speak up against the minorities and voice her opinion was printed in every major Australian newspaper.
So what happens to model members of our society, like Margaret Court, when society changes and leaves them behind? Dr Kerryn Phelps, one of Australia's best known lesbians and doctors has tweeted, suggesting to Victorian Premier Ted Bailleau that Margaret Court’s name should be removed from the arena. Dr Phelps’ tweet is getting a lot of support on Twitter, but the idea doesn't sit well with me.

Lesbian tennis stars Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Rennae Stubbs have condemned Pastor Court’s stance. Tennis Australia has also distanced itself, with the following statement on its website.

Margaret Court has every right to her beliefs. She has every right to voice her opinions too, and contrary to her own words, those opinions are heard and broadcast far and wide. Having said that, the gay community and their supporters have an equal right to express their beliefs and opinions, and they are planning to do just that when they wave their rainbow flags at the Australian Open.
The question is whether Margaret Smith-Court, tennis legend, and Pastor Margaret Court of the Victory Life Ministries can co-exist.
Margaret Court, tennis legend is our history; half of Australia’s population wasn’t born when she won her last Grand Slam. No-one can take those victories away; surely no-one would want to...yet many of the gay activists who are planning to wave their rainbow flags have no memory of Margaret Court as a tennis champ.
Pastor Margaret Court is here and now, attracting a national audience, talking about the way she is discriminated against for her Christian views, while at the same time, preaching that we have not only a right, but an obligation to the Bible to discriminate against gays. It’s incongruous.
I hope that we can find a way to preserve her reputation as one of the greatest tennis players ever. Her second career is taking over now, and unfortunately, it’s leaving its shadow across the first. This extraordinary woman has two monuments in her honour. One is a tennis stadium; the other is a church. One will be the scene of protest as a result of what is taught in the other.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

Update Friday 13th: For further developments, see Professor Kerryn Phelp's response.

1 comment:

  1. You're right Sal. Nothing anyone can do can take away Margaret Court's sporting achievements. I agree, it is a great pity her religious views are damaging her stellar sporting reputation. But, this is her doing, not the work of the gay community or their supporters.

    It was Pastor Court who decided (unwisely) to exploit her sporting fame to publicize her backward and uninformed views on homosexuality. It is Pastor Court who, for two decades, happily made her homophobic remarks colourful and 'news-worthy' by linking them with her experience on the tennis circuit. Margaret Court threw sport and religion together in the mixing bowl - not the gay community.

    As you say, Court enjoys more free speech than most. Now she is learning that 'free' does not mean 'without consequences'. She is free to speak, but, quite rightly, the community is free to respond. But even then, are the gay community and their supporters advocating tit for tat consequences?

    Mrs Court advocates that homosexuals should 'change' (to suit her religious views), presumably refrain from having intimate relationships (with each other) and should be denied the right that every other Australian has to marry their life partner.

    These are the kinds of discriminatory expectations and impositions that account for unacceptably high rates of psychological distress and suicide in the gay community - particularly among teenagers. Words are not harmless - Mrs Court's words (combined with those of other homophobes and bigots) create a discriminatory culture which leads to kids (and adults) taking their lives. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mrs Court's views may be deadly for those who must suffer the consequences of them.

    Yet no-one is demanding that Mrs Court be stripped of the right to speak, that she should lose her pulpit or her television station. No-one is asking for any of her human rights to be denied. No-one is asking that she silenced or subjected to 'counseling' to deprogram her (the way she thinks homosexuals can be talked out of being gay).

    No. Unlike Mrs Court, no-one is threatening her right to remain exactly who she is - an outspoken Christian bigot. Instead, they argue that, as she herself has conflated bigotry and sport, the community response should reflect that; they advocate only that Mrs Court should lose a privilege, not a right.

    The removal of this privilege will not hurt her physically or financially. I doubt it will cause her great mental anguish. It is a smack on the wrist from the community, not a massive over-reaction.

    Unlike homosexuality, bigotry and ignorance is a choice. Margaret Court made her choice and Margaret Court chose to use her sporting profile to advance her views. If the consequences of her bigotry reflects those choices, the only person to blame is Mrs Court, herself.