Veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien has rejected an Australia Day award to protest the decision to give Margaret Court the country’s highest honour.
O’Brien wrote to the governor general’s secretary on Sunday explaining there must be something “fundamentally wrong” with the honours system given the “deeply insensitive and divisive decision” to appoint Court a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
He cited Court’s “hurtful and divisive criticisms relating to the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community”, warning her views were “repugnant to many Australians”.
O’Brien was to be appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), the second highest honour, but declined it in solidarity with transgender GP Clara Tuck Meng Soo, who handed back her award on Saturday to protest the decision to honour Court.
Court’s award, leaked on Friday, has been panned by critics including federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese and the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, is yet to weigh in on the controversy, citing the fact the honours were only formally announced on Monday night.
Court, who has worked as a Pentecostal minister since her retirement from tennis, received an AO in 2007 but has become controversial for public statements denigrating LGBTQ+ people.
Court has claimed “tennis is full of lesbians” and that transgender children were the work of “the devil”. She’s told Christian radio that a “gay lobby” was trying to “get [into] the minds of children” through Australia’s Safe Schools anti-bullying program.
In his letter, O’Brien expressed regret at having reversed his earlier decision to accept the award, adding that he was “conscious that there are many well-meaning people involved in the Order of Australia process”.
“I believe the decision to award Australia’s highest honour to Margaret Court may serve to erode the hard-fought gains made over decades in reducing the impact of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community — discrimination that has caused immense pain to untold people and destroyed lives,” he said.
“I believe the decision to present her with this award was deeply insensitive and must undermine community respect for awards that were created to celebrate a true spirit of community, not divide it.”
O’Brien said that Soo, who handed back a medal she received for her work with the LGBTQ+ community and HIV sufferers, “epitomises the true spirit of the Order of Australia”.
Court’s AC was awarded “for eminent service to tennis as an internationally acclaimed player and record-holding grand slam champion, and as a mentor of young sportspersons”.
On Friday, Court said: “All my life I’ve had those views and I was just saying what the Bible says.”
“I should always be able to say my views biblically, being a pastor and helping people with marriages and family. And I’ll never change those views,” she said. “I have nothing against people – I love the people. We have them come into our community services, all kinds – whether they’re gay, transgender, whatever they are.”
In a letter to the governor general, Soo said honouring Court sent a “strong signal to … distressed LGBTIQ+ youth that discrimination and prejudice against them is tolerated in our Australian community”.
A spokesman for LGBTQ rights group Just Equal said that since Court’s tennis achievements had been recognised with an AO her primary contribution had been “to marginalise and malign LGBTIQ Australians”.
“Margaret Court’s elevation, above her many previous awards, must sit uncomfortably with many people who have exemplified the best of Australian values throughout their lives and sought to advance all Australians,” he said.