Yes, Margaret Court, lesbians can rise to the top in tennis. Other sports, too | Kate O’Halloran

It goes without saying that women who play male-dominated sports at an elite level have defied a whole range of stereotypes

Margaret Court is right, tennis is full of lesbians. So is AFLW, soccer, cricket, you name any womens sport and the same (mostly) applies. Its an open secret that anyone who has played these sports or has momentarily observed them is aware of. And its not a fact to be ashamed of. It goes without saying that women who play male-dominated, traditionally masculine sports, particularly at an elite level, have defied a whole range of stereotypes about gender to make it to where they are.

It follows, I would argue, that some of these same women might question the presumption of the righteousness of heterosexuality at the heart of Margaret Courts worldview. Gender normativity or the belief in restrictive gender norms and compulsory heterosexuality go hand in hand: to be assigned female at birth is to identify as a woman, is to be feminine, is to be attracted to men, who identify as male, who are masculine. Or is it not? Disrupting this ideological logic is exactly what those who agree with Court are afraid of.

Indeed, if you listen closely to Courts rambling radio interview, she is most disturbed by the idea that girls and boys in todays society might be encouraged to explore their gender identity beyond the realm of hegemonic masculinity and femininity. Court, for example, outlines her own history as a tomboy in childhood:

I could kick the ball better than anyone, could play cricket but I always knew I was a girl. I liked wearing shorts, but I liked wearing dresses. But with the literature, the bullying, the stuff thats put out today into childrens minds if you havent got parents who bring you up that way, [or] youve got parents who just dont care a child can start to think, maybe Im a girl when theyre a boy, or maybe Im a boy when theyre a girl.

In other words, Court being a tomboy was OK on account of the fact that she remained certain of her core nature as a woman. For her, this is symbolised by her desire to wear dresses as well as shorts or the fact that she was feminine even though she had a masculine prowess for sport. But, she fears, with anti-bullying programs such as Safe Schools (singled out for condemnation as the work of the devil), children may no longer be so assured of their rightful gender identities and by extension, their sexualities.

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Margaret Court: ‘Tennis is full of lesbians’ audio

This is why transgender kids are targeted for her ire, as is Casey Dellacqua, an Australian tennis player with a female partner who has two children. In raising her children without a father, Dellacqua was accused by Court of depriving her children. Such logic ignores the fact that men are not always good fathers, and that queer parents are some of the most loving in the world. If you want facts, children in same-sex parented Australian families do as well emotionally, socially, educationally as their peers from heterosexual families. But this is not about facts, this is about ideology.

Ironically, the impetus behind the Safe Schools program is to provide support for those students whose gendered or sexual expression is often the target of bullying. In their own resources, the Safe Schools Coalition notes that school is the place where most homophobic and transphobic bullying takes place. Seventy-five percent of LGBTI students have experienced abuse and discrimination, with 80% of the abuse happening in schools. These statistics are similar in sport, where, according to study Out On The Fields, 87% of young gay Australians in team sports feel they have to hide their sexuality on account of the bullying experienced, or anticipated.

Just who is bullying who, then, is a question of ideology. On Thursday, Martina Navratilova rightly argued Courts vitriol is not just an opinion kids will suffer more because of this continuous bashing and stigmatising of our LGBT community. As a result, Navratilovas open letter concluded with the call for Courts Arena to be renamed Evonne Goolagong Arena.

[That] has a great ring to it. Now there is a person we can all celebrate. On every level.

On-court hero though she may have been, Courts worldview is far out of step with those people both in sport and more broadly whose lives are lived in defiance of the restrictive norms about gender and sexuality that her views propagate.

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