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Aussie tennis legend under fire for anti-LGBT comments

Unclear if calls to rename Margaret Court Arena gaining traction

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Margaret Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Margaret Court, left, in her ‘70s heyday on the international tennis scene. (Photo by Eric Koch of ANEFO; courtesy of the Dutch National Archives)

Tennis players, rock bands, activists and others in Australia and beyond are calling for the Margaret Court Arena, a tennis and entertainment venue in Melbourne, Victoria, to be renamed because of the controversial, anti-gay views of its namesake.

The arena, built in 1987 (it holds 7,500), is part of the National Tennis Centre at Melbourne Park, itself part of the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Precinct. It opened in 1988 as Show Court One but was renamed in 2003 after Court, the country’s most successful female tennis player of all time.

Court, 75, was the first woman in the open era (pros/amateurs competing jointly) to win the singles Grand Slam (all four major tennis tournaments in the same calendar year); she was only the second woman in history to do it. With 24 solo wins, 19 women’s doubles wins and 21 mixed doubles titles, she holds a record 64 major titles overall. Several of her records still stand. In 2010, Aussie newspaper the Herald Sun called her “the greatest female tennis player of all time.”

Raised Catholic, Court became a Pentecostal after retiring from tennis in 1977. She was ordained an independent Pentecostal minister in 1991. After founding Margaret Court Ministries, she founded the Victory Life Centre, a Perth-based Pentecostal church, in 1995. She is its senior pastor and broadcasts of her preaching are aired on Australian TV.

She has been an anti-LGBT crusader for years inspiring an effort that began in 2012 for the arena bearing her name to be renamed. Although the issue has been percolating, it reached a boil in May when Court wrote a letter to the West Australian (a Perth newspaper) criticizing Qantas, Australia’s largest domestic airline, for being a corporate supporter of same-sex marriage (currently illegal; a national mail-in vote is in the works) and claiming she would boycott the airline.

In a follow-up interview with Vision Christian Radio, she said lesbian tennis players try to lead young players “into parties,” implying they recruit using tactics similar to Hitler and communism. Of trans issues, she said, “That’s all the devil.”

Out tennis legend Martina Navratilova wrote an open letter to arena owners calling for the change. Navratilova called Court an “amazing tennis player” but also “a racist and a homophobe.”

“How much blood will be on Margaret’s hands because kids will continue to get beaten for being different,” Navratilova wrote. “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.”

Sigur Ros closed its “Splendour in the Grass 2017” tour in July at the Margaret Court Arena with a light show projection supporting same-sex marriage. The band sold limited edition T-shirts at the concert to raise funds for the marriage effort there. Other acts such as LCD Soundsystem, Grinspoon and Ryan Adams who’ve played there have spoken out against Court.

“I’m not one to get in old people’s faces for being ignorant, but when you come after my family, my friends … you can go fuck yourself,” said LCD Soundsystem singer James Murphy, according to a Junkee concert review.

Tennis Australia praised Court for her “unmatched playing record” but said her “personal views are her own and do not align with Tennis Australia’s values of equality, inclusion and diversity.”

Arena owners have not said if the proposed renaming is being seriously considered but said on Twitter they’re committed to equality.

LGBT Australian activists say the issue has died down some since it broke in May but differ on how significant it is.

Sally Goldner, an activist on trans and bi issues who works with three such agencies, says anti-LGBT rhetoric such as Court’s does have consequences.

“Her trans comments, which didn’t get as much coverage, were pretty extreme,” Goldner said in a Skype interview with the Blade. “To imply that trans people are possessed by the devil, that’s pretty extreme. … She gave several long interviews in mainstream media, yet to my knowledge, at no point were any trans people or families given the same amount of attention. … There’s a lot of issues below the surface beyond just the naming of the arena.”

Anthony Venn-Brown, a former Pentecostal Australian minister who left that ilk of Christianity after coming out at age 40, says that branch of the Christian faith is flourishing in Australia. Though Branch is independent, Venn-Brown says the internationally known Hillsong movement is theologically similar and “has become the largest, fastest-growing branch of Christianity in Australia.”

Venn-Brown says LGBT activists should have simply ignored Court.

“If we would have just let it go, it would have been of no consequence. … She doesn’t have a huge following, she’s not incredibly popular, her church is not huge and she’s getting to be quite old,” he said via Skype. “People are so quick to call for boycotts and names to be changed. It seems to me at times to be playground behavior. … Can’t we just take a deep breath and chill?”

Others disagree.

Filmmaker and clinical psychologist Dee Mosbacher, whose 2009 documentary “Training Rules” exposed the anti-gay policies of former Pennsylvania State University women’s basketball head coach Rene Portland, says homophobia exacts a toll.

“I know well the pain that’s caused by touting someone who is an out and proud homophobe like Rene Portland,” Mossbacher, a lesbian, says. “Some of her players thought about suicide, some felt like their whole lives were wrecked, they had symptoms of PTSD. It had a visceral effect on these women. Some of them hadn’t seen or heard anything about her for decades but it still had a tremendous effect on them. … It’s like a counter to the It Gets Better program. Holding up someone like Margaret Court as a hero is like saying it gets worse. If you allow these people to be out there with their homophobia, you’re saying it’s OK and you’re colluding with them and enabling it.”

Goldner says calls to LGBT support services “skyrocket” when anti-gay views are heavily covered in the news.

“We’ve got plenty of evidence of that,” says Goldner, who’s transgender.

She says the issue needs to be kept in perspective, though.

“We need to keep our eyes on the prize, which is full equality legally and socially,” she says. “Is renaming an arena going to do that? I’m not so sure. It can send a message, but I think there might be some more effective things we could be doing in my honest opinion.”

Venn-Brown, who runs an LGBT outreach program called Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, also says there are “bigger fish we should be frying.”

“Renaming an arena is not gonna change anything except maybe to make some LGBT people feel they’ve beaten somebody,” he says. “There are more important things for us to focus on.”

Navratilova, Court and management of the Margaret Court Arena did not respond to requests for comment.

Mossbacher understands the perspective, but says Court’s “homophobia and bullying should be called out.”

“It’s not like this is a historical thing where she’s some homophobe from the past,” she says. “They’d never hold her up as some kind of hero if she’d made these comments about aboriginal people or people of color or whatever, so I don’t think it’s OK for her to get away with it when it’s against LGBT people.”

The Margaret Court Arena is used for a wide spate of sports and entertainment events. (Photo  by DestinationAlan; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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Sports

Lia Thomas breaks silence after losing case to compete in Olympics, other elite women’s sports

Riley Gaines calls ruling a ‘victory’

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Lia Thomas (YouTube screen capture)

Transgender All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition, after a worldwide ban on trans women athletes was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And for the first time since granting an interview to ESPN in May 2022, Thomas is speaking out, as is her fiercest critic, Riley Gaines

The University of Pennsylvania graduate commented on this week’s ruling in a statement issued through her attorney, saying that the decision should serve as a “call to action for trans women athletes.”

“The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” Thomas said. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities. The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

On Wednesday, three CAS judges dismissed the athlete’s request for arbitration with World Aquatics, the governing body for swimming organizations around the world, claiming rules regarding transgender competitors introduced two years ago were discriminatory.

Three months after Thomas became the first out trans Division I NCAA champion in March 2022, World Aquatics voted to prohibit trans women who had been through male puberty from competing in elite meets for cisgender women. Only trans women who had completed their medical transition by the age of 12 were allowed to compete with cisgender women. The organization introduced an “open category” in its 50-meter and 100-meter races across all strokes, which would allow athletes whose gender identity differs from the sex they were presumed to be at birth to compete with anyone else. But they would no longer be allowed to compete with other women who were not trans. 

In asking CAS to overturn the ruling last year, Thomas argued that the guidelines were discriminatory, “invalid and unlawful,” as the Los Angeles Blade reported. But the judges dismissed her claim, stating she had no standing and is not eligible to compete in elite competitions through World Aquatics or USA Swimming “for the time being,” so the policy does not apply to her.

“She is currently only entitled to compete in USA Swimming events that do not qualify as ‘Elite Events,'” according to the judges. “The panel concludes that she lacks standing to challenge the policy and the operational requirements in the framework of the present proceeding,” said the court in its ruling.

The judges said USA Swimming had no authority “to modify such scope of application” of the world governing body’s rules.

World Aquatics said it welcomed the CAS decision in a case “we believe is a major step forward in our efforts to protect women’s sport.” 

Even had the court ruled in her favor, Thomas is not named on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin this weekend in Indianapolis ahead of the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris next month.

To failed swimmer turned vocal anti-trans inclusion activist and Gaines, that is “great news.” “Great news! Lia Thomas won’t be able to compete in women’s category at the Olympics or any other elite competition. He has just lost his legal battle in Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling,” Gaines posted on her social media Wednesday, misgendering Thomas. “This is a victory for women and girls everywhere.”

But Gaines did not stop there. A few hours later, she shared an article about the ruling from the right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, and threw down a challenge to the NCAA: “Now the @ncaa needs to strip him of every award, title, and record he stole from a deserving female athlete.” 

Other conservative anti-trans media such as the Daily Mail and other outlets also hailed the decision. But above the fray, one voice has consistently stood out in support of Thomas: Her friend, Schuyler Bailar, who became the first trans athlete to compete on a NCAA Division I men’s team when he swam for Harvard. He called the CAS ruling, “devastating.” 

“This is not inclusion. This is textbook discrimination,” Bailar said in a post on Instagram. “And it is a result of the vicious, disgusting, anti-trans and misogynistic rhetoric that has infected this country and the world. Rhetoric that is not based in science but rather in hatred, fueled by power hungry people who do not care truly about women or women’s sports. I’m not sure what is next in this moment — but history will not look back favorably on this decision.” 

The Blade has reached out to Thomas through her representative for comment and did not receive a response as of press time. 

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Africa

Kenya seeks to ban intersex athletes from lowering hormone levels to compete in sports

Country’s human rights body has put forth measure

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(Bigstock photo)

Kenya’s state-funded human rights body does not want intersex athletes in the country to lower their hormone levels as a requirement to compete in any sport.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in a proposal to the National Assembly notes it will ensure non-discrimination and fairness for intersex people in sports.  

The proposal in the Intersex Persons Bill, 2024, is among numerous amendments to existing laws that seek to grant intersex people equal rights after the government in 2019 officially recognized them as a third sex.

According to the bill that would amend Kenya’s Sports Act of 2013, this will require the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry’s Cabinet secretary and the National Council for Intersex Persons, which the measure would create, to develop measures that ensure fairness for sporting intersex people when enacted.            

“The measures shall not require a person to alter their biological hormonal composition as a condition to participating in any sporting activity or program,” reads the bill. 

Although the measures would apply nationally, they would contradict the World Athletics Council’s 2018 regulations that similarly bar female transgender athletes from participating in international competitions, such as the Olympic Games. Intersex Kenyan athletes have to abide by these rules at the global level.       

The World Athletics through the regulations noted trans women who naturally have higher levels of testosterone compared to ordinary women have to undergo medication or surgery to lower their testosterone levels as a condition before competing in races of between 400 meters and a mile. Kenya’s National Olympic Committee supports these rules.

Some top female trans athletes barred from competing in the Olympic events from the World Athletics regulations due to their high natural testosterone levels include Margaret Wambui of Kenya, Caster Semenya of South Africa, Aminatou Seyni of Niger and and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.

The trans athletes opposed the World Athletics regulations with Semenya challenging them in court, but lost the case, even though the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2019 criticized the rules. UNHCR cautioned sports bodies not to “force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.” 

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Deputy Director Veronica Mwangi, who spoke with the Washington Blade about the bill’s controversial proposal, said Kenya, which is the only African country to recognize intersex people as a third sex, has started the conversation with a “bigger picture” for the international sporting bodies to create an alternative competition for them to exploit their talents without reducing their hormonal levels or interfering with their biological characteristics as the condition before competing.      

“As KNCHR, we are very clear that we cannot afford to continue discriminating and marginalizing persons who are born as intersex, but rather we can promote conversations of inclusivity where the Semenya of South Africa, an equivalent of Semenya in Uganda and an equivalent in the U.S. or Kenya can have a special sporting event like the Paralympics for persons living with disabilities,” Mwangi said. 

She also questioned the fairness of World Athletics and other international sporting bodies in demanding “the Semenyas or talented intersex persons” to undergo hormonal therapy which then affects the athletes’ well-being after interfering with their biological anatomy.   

“These governing sporting bodies should not come back to us that it is the intersex persons to carry the blame,” Mwangi said. “It is not the responsibility of the intersex (person) but they are duty-bearers and should think of mechanisms to grow their talents and not find an easy way out of demanding to change who they are.” 

Mwangi disclosed the proposal is driven by KNCHR’s special task force report that found most intersex school children are talented and perform well in sports. 

Kenya’s Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee is already identifying talented intersex people, including those in schools, to support their growth in sports. Kenya’s 2019 Census found there are 1,524 intersex people in the country.

Other amendments to the Intersex Persons Bill include an employment provision that would cap an intersex person’s monthly income tax at 25 percent of wages, compared to other Kenyans whose maximum taxable income stands at 35 percent, depending on one’s monthly total earnings.  

“Capping the income tax or wages for intersex persons at 25 percent is a tax consideration in the form of an affirmative action to uplift them in economic development and it is similar to that of persons living with disability who are tax exempted as marginalized groups,” Mwangi said.

The bill further seeks to amend the Health Act for any parent with an intersex child born at home to report the birth at the nearest government administration office or risk a fine of not more than $1,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, after being found guilty of concealing an intersex child’s identity.

The proposed law, moreover, seeks to create the National Council for Intersex Persons, whose mandates would include the creation of initiatives and programs to prevent discrimination against intersex people, creating a database for all intersex people and accrediting the group for employment purposes.  

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Sports

NFL player’s misogynistic, homophobic comments spark outrage

Harrison Butker gave Benedictine College commencement address on Saturday

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Harrison Butker (Benedictine College YouTube screenshot)

Addressing a friendly audience at a private, Catholic liberal arts college, three-time Super Bowl champion Harrison Butker spoke from his heart about his faith and revealed his personal beliefs as a cisgender man about women and the LGBTQ community. 

In his 20-minute commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker said LGBTQ Pride Month events are an example of biblical “deadly sins,” denounced “dangerous gender ideologies” and the “diabolical lies told to women,” declared a woman’s most important title is “homemaker,” and offered his take on abortion, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, as well as President Joe Biden. 

Butker, 28, criticized Biden’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and questioned his devotion to Roman Catholicism, calling him “delusional.” Speaking directly to the men in the audience, the athlete advised them to “be unapologetic in your masculinity,” and to “fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

The pro football player announced that God had given him a platform to speak and that, “I have no other choice but to embrace it,” he said. 

Those in attendance laughed in support of Butker when he mocked Pride Month as he cited a recent article by the Associated Press, headlined: “‘A step back in time’: America’s Catholic Church sees an immense shift toward the old ways.” The article detailed the institution’s shift “toward the old ways” and highlighted Benedictine’s rules that “seem like precepts of a bygone age,” which include “volunteering for 3 a.m. prayers” and “pornography, premarital sex, and sunbathing in swimsuits being forbidden.”

“I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger but instead met with excitement and pride,” said Butker. “Not the deadly sins sort of Pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.” Butker went on to say that only by surrendering one’s self to Christ will anyone find happiness. 

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane said in a statement addressing his comments. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, called Butker’s speech “inaccurate, ill-informed, and woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people, and women.”

“Those with expansive platforms, especially athletes, should use their voices to uplift and expand understand and acceptance in the world,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Butker’s remarks undermine experiences not of his own and reveal him to be one who goes against his own team’s commitment to the Kansas City community, and the NFL’s standards for respect, inclusion and diversity across the league.”

Butker called on religious leaders “to stay in their lane and lead,” and told women their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward.  

“I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: Homemaker,” said Butker, and his words were met with thunderous applause. 

“It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolic lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

The Chiefs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but someone who handles social media for Kansas City posted on X that Butker doesn’t even live in Kansas City but in a suburb 30 miles outside city limits, in a now-deleted tweet. 

Someone then posted an apology using that account:

And Kansas City’s mayor himself apologized, also on X, saying “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account,” he posted. “The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

Butker’s comments earned him comparisons to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both in his words and in how his beard appeared similar to one of the Hulu series’ characters. 

You can watch Butker’s commencement address in full here: 

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