Australia is not only hosting a sporting event we’re all looking forward to, there’s also a debate going on at the moment about Marriage Equality.
It’s no news that Australian tennis legend Margaret Court is a homophobe par excellence but a few days ago she once again set out to give the queer community and everyone who is fighting for equality and human rights another bashing.
In an interview she condemned gay marriage and declared that “there is no reason to put forward alternative, unhealthy, unnatural unions as some form of substitute.”
Several tennis writers picked up the topic and have taken a stand against Margaret Court’s comments. Please read this piece by James LaRose of Tennis Channel.com!
Along Australian out tennis player Rennae Stubbs, LaRosa cites Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, who speak out against Court’s hurtful thoughts.
Thirty years after these two champions of the game came out publicly (correction: were outed rather nastily) there will be gay players who have to step out onto Margaret Court Arena and will try to play their best tennis. Most of them are closeted exactly because of the bigotry that still persists on so many levels in society and especially in the gender-stereotype driven world of sports.
A few days ago tennis fan Bluish from Australia posted an idea in Tennis Forum, an online community of women’s tennis fans:
“In light of Margaret Courts repeated outbursts of homophobia, and the public reaction from the likes Navratilova, BJK & Stubbs, I think something must be done to show that homophobia is not okay anymore. With great power, comes great responsibility – and Margaret Court is perhaps the greatest woman in the history of tennis. She has a responsibility – as an important and respected member of the tennis community – to not spread hatefulness, which she’s done as a pastor in her church. […] comments like hers only make the process of joining society and feeling accepted by your community harder and harder, and young gay people contemplate suicide and self harm more and more. Her voice has been heard, and now must ours.
I propose that throughout the Australian Open, every player playing a match on Margaret Court Arena, male or female, wear a rainbow ribbon – not in support of gay marriage, gay adoption or any other right – but for the basic human right of not being chastised for being the person they are. Homophobia is not okay! Not anymore! […]”
While a lot of the tennis fans doubted that many players would pick up the idea to wear a ribbon on Margaret Court Arena (fans have already asked players for support via Twitter, but not many have responded yet), soon it became clear that instead it was the audience and tennis fans who should “adorn her arena w/ rainbow flags”, as Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated senior writer twittered in support of the idea.
However, some tennis fans, while applauding the idea, have already uttered concern on the Tennis Forum thread that the action might put pressure on closeted players:
“[…] this could potentially be a serious issue, if journalists use this as an excuse to try to out some players who prefer not to discuss their sexuality publicly. In all honesty, I think the main focus should be on getting the general public and preferably as many prominent non (current) players on board. If individual players spontaneously decide to join in that’s great, but I don’t think there should be any pressure at all to convince them to do so.”
Going public with one’s sexuality is always a big step whether you do it when you’re fifteen and struggle to tell your best friend or you’re a twenty-something tennis player used to media attention and Centre Court brouhaha. It’s still a very personal decision and I do hope that the privacy of closeted players will be respected. Also, this idea is not initiated by the situation of gay people in sports but discrimination in general, even though the discussion about coming out in the world of sports might be stirred up by it.
I really hope that there will be some (straight) players who are open-minded, supportive and unafraid enough to take a stand and go public with statements against discrimination and thereby take off the pressure of the gay athletes, who are not out to the public and who might be reluctant to comment on the issue.
There are also concerns by tennis fans that the idea might take attention away from the tennis:
“I’m for gay marriage but against this idea. In Australia we get one month of tennis, one month when its actually reported on. This is Australia’s biggest yearly event and recently it’s been overshadowed by the croats v serbs fights and while I believe marriage equality should happen I can just imagine all the reports being about this and not the great event that the Australian Open is. Really, I can’t see this doing much for the cause other than being a big ‘up yours’ to Court.”
I believe it is important to make it clear to the Australian public and other tennis spectators (because the Australian Open is still and foremost about tennis) that wearing a ribbon is not directed against the legacy of Margaret Court as a tennis player (she is doing enough to damage it herself), perhaps not even directed against her personally for the homophobe she is, but is a statement to the public that queer people will not accept it when they are called “unhealthy”, “abominable” and “unnatural”.
The purpose is not to take attention away from the tennis, but to bring forward an issue that affects and hurts so many people, among them a lot of tennis fans and tennis players.
And I do hope it will add some color to the Australian Open.
Black and white was abandoned in tennis as early as 1972, Margaret.