Margaret Court may well have been the finest female tennis player ever. The second woman in history to win all four Grand Slam singles titles in the same year. An unequalled match-winning percentage of 91.74 (1177/106). No one can take that away from her. So revered is she in the world of sport they named a temple of tennis after her, the Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park.

I think we can fairly say she’s entitled to that. But it does grate on me, the way I imagine black people get cross at places named after Nigger Brown.

Born a Catholic, she was obviously not made to believe what she was told, or follow the orders of a bunch of men, so nowadays she not only owns her own church, but an entire denomination — Victory Life Centre Incorporated of Perth.

An evangelical foundation, preaching that every word of the Bible is inerrant truth, her church nonetheless has no problem ignoring those words that do not suit her. Such as: “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” (NASB, 1 Cor. 14:34-35)

No such submission for our Margaret. But she is red-hot on all those verses that condemn homos-xuality.

In 1994 she called homos-xuality an abomination. In 2002, Court said it was a sin of the flesh, a choice, and that with God’s help people could be cured. Perhaps, as a natural southpaw who switched to a right-handed grip, she thinks people can change their s-xual orientation as easily.

She claims that homos-xuality destroys families. And last month she pushed herself into the gay marriage debate, stating: “Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homos-xuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take.”

Well, enough is enough. Tired of her trading on her faded tennis glory, and alarmed at the potential harm she could be causing, particularly to impressionable young people, something had to be done.

The result is Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena, which began with a couple of tennis tragics in the US. One of them, Katie Johnson, an avid tennis player and fan from Atlanta, Georgia, started a Facebook page. It simply asks people to take rainbow flags with them to the tennis, or wear something rainbow. It seems to have struck a chord.

New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, in town to report on the tournament, spoke about the issue on GLBTIQ radio station Joy 94.9 late Tuesday night. Katie noticed that I work at Joy, too, and asked me via Twitter if I could help. The rest just created itself. Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena isn’t a movement, it’s just an idea that started online and is still growing.

I jumped in and suggested that Tennis Australia could distance themselves from Court’s bigotry by flying a rainbow flag over her arena. I thought it would be kinder to Court than having TA issue a public denunciation.

People have asked why we must you use the Australian Open as a political platform. I’ll tell you.

Australians are in thrall to sporting heroes. When I was interviewed about the issue on 2GB, Court was referred to as a “sacred” Australian sporting icon. Referring to her sporting status — nothing to do with her religiosity.

Court uses that sporting halo to sell her anti-gay messages. But they’re not true. And in some instances, they can be deadly.

Let’s take the claim that she — or rather, “God” — can cure homos-xuality. All reputable reliable scientific evidence shows this is wrong. Scores of ex-gays who once proclaimed themselves cured have since come out as gay and admitted they were deceiving themselves, along with the rest of us.

Even ex-gay promoting pastors in the US now admit the best anyone can manage is a suppression of homos-xual desire, achieved by constantly policing one’s own thoughts and behaviour. Psychiatric evidence shows this is a sure and certain route, not to liberation and happiness, but to depression, and, all too often, suicide.

Should we remain silent, when by speaking out we can save lives? Should we allow this dangerous nonsense to go unchallenged because the person speaking them was once superlatively good at whacking a tennis ball around an arena?

Clearly not. Let Court have the credit for her achievements, but she cannot be allowed to hide behind them, when the rate of GLBTI teen suicide is many times that of their straight counterparts.

And why? Because they believe the rubbish peddled by this “sporting hero”, this “sacred icon”. Because their parents believe it, and throw them out of the family home. Because their peers believe it, and bully them relentlessly.

Margaret Court is an enabler of misery.

High-profile lesbian Dr Kerryn Phelps has called for Court’s name to be erased from the arena that currently commemorates her. I think that would be vindictive and unkind. I think it would be enough if Tennis Australia were to hoist the rainbow flag, the symbol of the diverse GLBTI community, over the arena that bears her name whenever she is a present, as a reminder to her and to all the world that Australia does not condone bigotry, no matter how august the personage expressing it.

Tennis Australia has issued a pretty robust statement, lauding her sporting achievements, but distancing itself from her homophobia:

“… her personal views are her own, and are definitely not shared by Tennis Australia. Like the WTA, we believe that everyone should be treated equally and fairly. We concur wholeheartedly with the WTA who stated that ‘all human beings, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or otherwise, should be treated equally’.

“This is a fundamental right and principle, including within the world of sport.  Anyone advocating otherwise is advocating against fundamental and essential rights.

“TA does not support any view that contravenes these basic human rights.”

As we stand on the brink of finally having our loves recognised, values embraced and celebrated exactly as our heteros-xual counterparts have been able to do for centuries, with the hoped-for passage of the Marriage Equality Bill later this year, we must not allow the glories of the past to excuse the prejudices of the present.

So please, if you support Australian values such as equality, fairness and mateship, whether you’re straight, gay or anything else, take along a little rainbow flag and wave it for the cameras. You never know whose heart you may lighten.

*Doug Pollard is a gay broadcaster and journalist working in Melbourne. He produces and presents a program of GLBTIQ news and current affairs, The Rainbow Report, on Joy 94.9 every Tuesday at 7pm. He speaks, however, entirely for himself.

Peter Fray

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