“I think it’s really important if you’re going to have your name on anything that you’re hospitable, you’re inclusive, you’re open arms to everyone that comes,” she continued. “It’s a public facility.”
Over time, King said, Court’s comments about gays and lesbians “really went deep in my heart and soul.”
“I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community; I’m a gay woman.”
King’s remarks appeared to catch tournament officials off guard.
As controversy mounted over the name of the arena last year, the host federation maintained almost complete silence in the face of calls for the name to be changed because of Court’s remarks about gay people and gay marriage, which recently became legal in Australia after receiving overwhelming support in a public referendum.
Tennis Australia broke that silence on Friday with the announcement of an initiative called “#Open4All” which would indirectly address Court’s vitriol by highlighting the sport’s tolerance.
“Tennis Australia, along with the rest of the tennis family, proudly live the values of equality, inclusion and diversity,” said Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley.
Tiley announced that King had been named “Australian Open Woman of the Year,” and spoke of her legacy as a pioneer as she sat beside him at the podium.
But when King was asked about Court’s name on the arena, she said: “I know it’s not as easy as people think, but I personally don’t think she should have her name anymore. I think if you were talking about indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can’t imagine the public would want somebody to have their name on something. Maybe because of our community, the L.G.B.T.I.Q. community, people might feel differently. But we’re all God’s children. We are all God’s children, so I probably don’t think it’s appropriate to have her name.”
The facility that hosts the United States Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., was christened the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006. King said she felt an enormous onus to live up to that mantle.
“Every time I see my name up there, I can hardly breathe because of the responsibility that goes with it,” King said. “If I’m going to have my name on anything, I would welcome Margaret, I would welcome Pentecostals, I would welcome whoever. Whether I agree with them or not is not important; I would just be more welcoming. I just feel like she’s gotten really derogatory.”
King cited a radio interview Court, 75, gave last May, in which she said it was satanic when children questioned their gender identity.
“That’s all the devil — that’s what Hitler did and that’s what communism did: got the mind of the children,” Court said on 20 Twenty Vision Christian Radio. “It’s a whole plot in our nation, and in the nations of the world, to get the minds of the children.”
King said there was no coming back from those remarks.
“When she talked about children of transgenders being from the devil, that put me over the edge, I must say,” she said.
King drew contrast between herself and Martina Navratilova, who has been calling for the name to be changed since last year, saying she had needed to be “very reflective before I come out and say anything.”
Though she received her annual invitation, Court will not attend this year’s tournament, saying she would watch it on television while vacationing. King expressed disappointment at her absence, said she had been looking forward to seeing her.
“I wish she were here so we could further this discussion,” King said of Court.
Tiley, who sat beside King as she articulated her objections, said her position was not awkward for the tournament.
“No, our position hasn’t changed,” Tiley said. “Our position has been pretty straightforward: Margaret’s views are her views. They are not the views of our organization and not the views of our sport. We’re inclusive, diverse, equal, and all the things Billie Jean said. As far as the name of the arena, that’s up to a broader group of people than just one person or one organization.”
Margaret Court Arena generally hosts five marquee matches per day through the first week of the tournament, and is sold as a separate ticket from the rest of the grounds. Whether or not any of the hundreds of players who might be assigned matches there would refuse to compete is yet unknown.
The first round of the Australian Open begins Monday.