For decades, Margaret Court was known chiefly as the all-time majors winner in tennis, but she has increasingly gained notice for homophobic comments since leaving the sport. The 74-year-old, who followed a legendary athletic career by becoming a Christian minister in her native Australia, has responded to mounting criticism by doubling down on her social views.
In an interview Wednesday with Vision Christian Radio, Court said that “tennis is full of lesbians,” adding that transgender children were the work of “the devil.” She accused the “gay lobby” of being behind an anti-bullying program, saying it caused “confusion” in children about their sexual identities.
Last week, in a letter to an Australian newspaper, Court decried Qantas for being “an active promoter for same-sex marriage” and vowed to boycott the airline. The former world No. 1, who holds a record for men or women with 24 Grand Slam singles titles, came under fire from a number of notable tennis figures, including Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Andy Murray.
Navratilova and King, who are openly gay, called for Court’s name to be removed from the arena in Melbourne that hosts the Australian Open. The arena’s own Twitter count posted a note saying, “Melbourne & Olympic Parks does not support Margaret Court’s comments and we remain an organisation committed to embracing equality, diversity and inclusion.”
“I don’t see why anyone has a problem with two people who love each other getting married,” Murray, the world’s No. 1 ranked player, said Tuesday while competing at the French Open. “If it’s two men, two women, that’s great. I don’t see why it should matter.”
“It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe,” Navratilova said in an open letter published Thursday (via the Sydney Morning Herald). “Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too). She is demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere. …
“How much blood will be on Margaret’s hands because kids will continue to get beaten for being different? This is not OK. Too many will die by suicide because of this kind of intolerance, this kind of bashing and yes, this kind of bullying. This is not OK.”
Australian player Casey Dellacqua, a mixed doubles winner at the 2011 French Open, posted a tweet last week showing an image of a letter-to-the-editor Court had written in 2013 complaining of Dellacqua’s decision to have a child with her partner, Amanda Judd. “Margaret. Enough is enough,” Dellacqua wrote in her tweet.
Australia’s top women’s player, Samantha Stosur, said of Court’s recent comments, “That’s all pretty crazy stuff.” Stosur had previously suggested that some players might refuse to play at the facility named for Court at next year’s event in Melbourne.
“I kind of agree with maybe having the arena’s name changed,” U.S. player Madison Keys said Tuesday. “If that comes up, I’m sure there’s many people who would be for that.”
Court said Wednesday that in her playing days, which began in the late 1950s and ended in 1977, “there were only a couple” of lesbians, but they “took young ones into parties and things.” She added, “That’s what Hitler did and that’s what communism did, got the minds of the children. There’s a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get the minds of the children.”
Court also reiterated her opposition to same-sex marriage, saying, “We know that homosexuality is a lust of the flesh, so is adultery, fornication, all those things … they too know this, this is why they want marriage, because it’s self-satisfying. … Everybody knows that it is wrong, but they’re after our young ones, that’s what they are after.”
Court won most of her major titles during tennis’s amateur era, but she also won 11, including a 1970 sweep of the Grand Slam events, in the Open era, which began in 1968. Serena Williams holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles won during the Open era, with 23.