Billie Jean King Calls for Margaret Court Arena Name Change Over Homophobic Comments

Billie Jean King

Fifteen years ago when an arena at Australia’s Melbourne Park was named for the country’s 24-time Grand Slam winner Margaret Court, tennis legend and activist Billie Jean King spoke on behalf of honoring the former athlete turned Pentecostal minister for her towering achievements in the sport. But in light of Court’s deeply homophobic statements about LGBT people and marriage equality, which the country's Parliament passed in December, King said at a press conference for the Australian Open on Friday that Court’s name should be removed from the arena, reports the Associated Press

"I personally don't think she should have (her name on the stadium) anymore,” King said, echoing a growing sentiment that began to emerge last year after Court threatened to boycott Qantas airlines because of its support for marriage equality. 

“I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community — I'm a gay woman — about the LBGTIQ community,” King added. “That really went deep in my heart and soul.”

In the months since Court threatened her boycott of the airline, she amped up her anti-LGBT rhetoric,  saying that LGBT people “Want marriage because they want to destroy it. There will be no Mother’s Day, there will be no Father’s Day, there will be no Easter, there will be no Christmas.” 

Court, who has opted to take a crabbing trip rather than attend the Australian Open tennis tournament that runs January 15-28, part of which will be played at the arena named for her, recently chastised the Australian people for voting overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality in a mail-in ballot that Parliament then honored by making equality the law of the land. 

“I think there will be a price to pay for it in the future in the nation and people will see it’s not about marriage,” Court said after the marriage vote.  “There will be a genderless generation”.

Meanwhile, King, who just this week attended the Golden Globe Awards for the film Battle of the Sexes, about her famed match with self-professed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs, is attending the Australian Open for the first time in eight years. To honor King, organizers of the event named her the Australian Open’s Woman of the Year and kicked off the “Open4All” initiative to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion, according to the AP.  

King, who fought for equal pay in tennis in the early ’70s and who subsequently launched the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 in part to protect Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 to ban gender-based discrimination in education, said that if Court were in Melbourne for the tournament, she’d be open to continuing a discussion about inclusion, emphasizing that accepting a public space with one’s name on it comes with responsibility to all who enter there.  

“It's really important if you're going to have your name on anything that you're hospitable, you're inclusive, you open your arms to everyone that comes,” King said.  “It's a public facility.”

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