Billie-Jean King – the Trailblazer

 This article appeared in and The Dominion Post


“We know that homosexuality is a lust of the flesh … they too know this, this is why they want marriage, because it’s self-satisfying…my belief is marriage the bible way.”

“Transgender children are the work of the devil.”

“Tennis is full of lesbians.”

These are just a few quotes from Margaret Court, senior pastor and former Australian world No1 tennis player, in response to the country’s vote in November, on same-sex marriage.


Former tennis great Margaret Court whose comments on homosexuality have prompted calls for a name change for Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena.

The Australian Open is coming up in January, where one of the main stadiums is called the Margaret Court Arena. In light of her remarks, some of the players are asking for the stadium to be stripped of its name. Of course, that’s very unlikely to happen. It would cause mayhem.

The recent release “Battle of the Sexes”, the film about women tennis players’ fight for equality, also addresses same-sex issues and, in light of Court’s comments, couldn’t be more timely.

It shows Billie-Jean King, the female protagonist, fighting for women’s rights, but it also follows her personal journey in her attempt to come to terms with her sexuality. Billie-Jean was finally “outed” in a palimony case in 1981. Overnight, she lost all her endorsements.  Painful as it was for her, it paved the way for Navratilova to come out just a few months later.

Even today, there are extremely few openly lesbian players. Perhaps they also worry about losing their endorsements.

But the women players don’t just have to put up with homophobia; they also have to deal with all the sexism, the other issue in the film. They were seen to be so inferior during King’s time that they earned an eighth of the men’s prize money. She led the way in forming a breakaway women’s tour and found a sponsor in the cigarette company (now that wouldn’t happen today!), Virginia Slims, who paid decent prize money.

Today, the women are paid the same amount as the men in the Grand Slams and that’s down to the likes of King. Serena Williams, I hope you are listening, and that you are grateful!

On the point about women’s equality, as King says in the film, of course the women aren’t going to beat the top men, but that “we are just as entertaining” and the packed stadiums at the women’s matches in the Grand Slams vouch for that.

What many people also don’t take into account is that the women’s expenses are the same as the men’s. They too have to pay the flights, the hotels, their coaches and physios etc. and they train just as hard.

So, what John McEnroe recently said about Serena Williams not being capable of beating the men’s number 700 might be correct, but he’s missing the point.

Billie-Jean gave me some coaching when I was a junior and I was completely in awe of her confidence and powerful personality. She was also kind and incredibly encouraging. She was a wonderful role model and a huge influence at a time when women being competitive and forthright had negative connotations.

President Barack Obama gave Billie-Jean the National Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her work in women’s advocacy and LGBT initiatives. At the age of 74, she is as relevant today as she was back in the 70s.

The Virginia Slims slogan was “YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY”

And we have, indeed, come a long way, but no way have we come far enough.



Katrina played Junior Wimbledon and senior overseas tournaments. She is also a former world no.1 at Real Tennis, the predecessor of today’s game.

Leave a Reply