Margaret Court (below), the former Australian tennis star, has become far better known in recent years for her virulent anti-LGBT bigotry. She opposed marriage equality in the country before it became legal, and she has claimed LGBTQ people brainwash children… just like Hitler did.
Court is now the pastor of Victory Life Centre, a Christian church in Perth. When COVID broke out last year, she refused to close the building, insisting that the virus would “not come near our dwelling… [because] we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.”
My point is: Her insanity is competing with her bigotry in the contest of how to define her.
That’s also why it’s controversial that Court is set to receive the “Companion of the Order of Australia” — the nation’s highest civilian honor — on Tuesday. Why should one of the nation’s most well-known hate-mongers be given an award that essentially brushes aside the worst aspects of her legacy?
Condemnation poured out from Australia’s political opposition, with Daniel Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria and a member of the Labor Party, asking at a news conference why her views, “which are disgraceful, hurtful and cost lives, should be honored.”
Nick McKim, leader of the progressive Greens party, said in an email, “Margaret Court has spent more of her life campaigning against marriage equality than she ever spent on the tennis courts.” He added that the award was “a disgraceful insult to everyone Margaret Court has harmed by voicing support for apartheid and her decades-long campaign against L.G.B.T.I.Q.+ rights.”
It’s like giving Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom; it was a disgrace when Donald Trump did it, but it would be even more inconceivable if Joe Biden or any other president did the same. Why reward the worst people?
In this case, Court was selected by an independent council and then approved by another government official; that’s allowed current (conservative) Prime Minister Scott Morrison to basically stay out of the drama. The organization that selected Court said about another controversial pick last year that they’re not endorsing anyone’s views. They’re simply recognizing positive contributions in one area… even if the person is basically a moral monster in another.
But ignoring bad behavior — or hateful rhetoric — is a choice. No one’s taking away Court’s tennis victories. This isn’t about a tennis organization recognizing her Grand Slam victories. This is about the government giving an honor to a thoroughly dishonorable person. They could easily choose not to; there’s no shortage of individuals who have done wonderful things in Australia without hurting so many other people in the process.
Giving her this award sends a clear message that bigotry is acceptable, that it can be glossed over, that it’s not a dealbreaker for people with power. It’s the wrong message to send. It’s also insulting to those other recipients who may very well deserve the honor, only to have it tarnished with the knowledge that the government gives it to awful people without a second thought.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)