18 February 2021
Letter Returning OAM and community statements in protest of Margaret Court being awarded a Companion in the Order of Australia (AC)
The Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat
CANBERRA ACT 2600
His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd)
Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
YARRALUMLA ACT 2600
Tel: (02) 6283 3533
Fax: (02) 6281 3760
cc: The Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat
My name is Dr Indigo Willing, and I received a Medal in the Order of Australia in 2006 for my volunteer work creating and running the Adopted Vietnamese International community network. At the time, I felt this was an enormous nod of recognition, not so much to me as an individual, but to the courage, compassion and sense of identity and care of the adopted Vietnamese community my work serves and represents. I remain humbled by the award and grateful to those who nominated me. I also have great respect for many of the incredible recipients both across my cohort, and in the time before and since.
I continue to apply respect, duty of care, allyship and support for the rights of various populations who can be marginalized as a priority. This, of course, includes my own cohort of individuals from South Vietnamese orphanages who were adopted here in Australia during the Vietnam War era. However, I also extend those commitments to the refugee generation of Vietnamese and broader Asian and refugee communities who have settled here. In addition to this, I have an active role in co-founding networks for youth cultures and lifestyle sports such as skateboarding. My research work as a social scientist with a PhD in Sociology ranges from work on migration and racism, the study of gender, and safety and integrity in a broad range of mainstream and alternative sports. Working across these communities, I join many others dedicated to combating bullying, denigration, stigmatizing and exclusion against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) people.
I am writing as an act of protest and a call to action to revise the Honours system and in protest of Margaret Court being given the nation’s highest award on 26 January 2021. This return follows the lead of other Australians who have been awarded medals and are also either declining or returning them as part of a call for the Council to review the 2021 Australia Day honour bestowed on Margaret Court and the awards system that made this ‘honour’ possible. Others protesting include Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo, a medical doctor and trans activist who initiated this protest movement, Kerry O’Brien, a journalist and multiple Walkley Award winner, Peter Kingston, a highly accomplished and respected artist, academic Professor Caroline De Costa, and others.
It is also clear that Indigenous people, despite some being recipients of Honours awards, must be given prominence in the secretariat, selection process and decision making over when the awards are given. The timing of awards falls on 26 January, known as Invasion day and a day of mourning for First Nations peoples. That a celebration of the best in our community falls on this sad day for many First Nations peoples is highly insensitive, distressing and inappropriate. Supporting Indigenous people to shape the awards in ways that challenge and address this, is a positive way forward.
I will be sending this letter, my pin and dress medal, and a collection of statements below from other social scientists, community volunteers, writers and sociologists to the Secretariat’s office. The engraved medal is being archived as part of the historical records for the community of the adopted Vietnamese community, whose strength, resilience and care it still reflects.
I urge the Governor General and Secretariat to respond to these community calls for action and redeem the Honours system’s integrity and to recognise the role they can take in honouring truly deserving individuals who unite and inspire everyone, rather than divide and cause incredible harm.
Dr Indigo Willing
Medal in the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2006
Adopted Vietnamese International
Griffith Sport and Gender Equity Network
Statements by Academics and Community in Support of the Protest Against Margaret Court’s Honours Award on 26 January 2021
Margaret Court was the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon in 1963 and had an exceptional career in tennis. She is rightfully recognised as one of the best women tennis players in history, with numerous sporting awards. Her achievements have already been recognised with the award of an AO (Officer in the Order of Australia) in 2007.
In recent times Margaret Court has attracted widespread condemnation for harmful public statements that promote homophobia, transphobia and exclusionary views*. As highlighted, Court has already been recognised. However, she is far from an inclusive or suitable “mentor of young sportspersons”.
Below is a list of sociologists and other scholars, community workers and sports professionals supporting the rejection or return of mine and other Australian’s Medals of the Order of Australia in protest against Margaret Court being awarded an AC (Companion in the Order) – the Order of Australia’s highest level – on 26 January 2021.
Dr Hannah McCann
Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies
University of Melbourne
As social scientists we are committed to using our skills and expertise to address pressing social issues. Part of that commitment must involve attention to minorities and vulnerable people in our community, which necessarily means championing LGBTIQ+ rights and inclusion. We must stand in opposition to voices that seek to divide our community and promote hate and bigotry, and that includes speaking out when those voices are awarded the highest honours in the country. Social science cannot remain neutral in the face of injustice. As we rigorously study power dynamics, hierarchies, oppression and exclusion, we know all too well that there is no neutral position in the pursuit of a better fairer world. It is on this basis that I strongly oppose the award of an Order of Australia medal to Margaret Court, and support Dr Willing’s protest.
Dr Adele Pavlidis
Senior Lecturer and Co-Convener
Griffith Sport and Gender Equity Network
The award panel’s decision to award Margaret Court an Order of Australia medal was misinformed and should be overturned. As a sport sociologist I deeply understand the value of sport and sporting heroes on the social fabric of Australia. However, simply winning games is not what creates positive change in the community. Margaret Court has been vocal and clear in her discrimination of gender and sexually diverse people. People, gay, lesbian, trans, heterosexual or otherwise, are people. Their identity is not to be changed or challenged but accepted, supported, and included in our society. You may be aware of the extraordinary rates of suicide for young people from the LGBT community. This is primarily due to being rejected by society and fear of exclusion and hate. Violence against people in the LGBT community is also high. Your award to Margaret Court only serves to exacerbate these issues.
It is curious to see the Award panel fail to reflect on the harm that is done through their decisions. In 2020 sex therapist and commentator Bettina Arndt was awarded an AM, despite her contribution to rape culture, her support for known sex offenders, and her complete lack of understanding of the basic tenants of consent and respectful relationships. It seems that the awards are being used in ever so small, but powerful and harmful ways, to undermine the respect, integrity, and purpose of the honours system.
I add my voice to the call for the removal of Margaret Court’s award as a final chance for redemption for the Honours system in Australia. The awards have lost value and are becoming meaningless when recipients who activity seek to undermine the wellbeing and peace of our country are being honoured.
It is also wrong to continue to make these awards on January 26th, the day Australia recognises as Invasion Day. This is a day of mourning and must be respected as such.
It is time for a change. Sporting champions are not in themselves ‘good’. The Honours system and decision-making process might do well to reflect on contemporary social issues before awarding to those who do more harm than good.
Author, Look Who’s Morphing
I absolutely support your decision to hand back your OAM. I do not support the Order of Australia system because it is clear that it props up the colonial project. This is evident in the timing of the awards, in which the awards are handed out not only on January 26 but on the Queen’s Birthday date for Australia. It is also reinforced by the Governor-General approving the awards. The awards should be separated from both of these dates, as well as from the office of the Governor-General. Some people might point out that the awards are given out to Indigenous people, as well as other racialised people, but of course there is so much evidence, historical and present-day, that shows that it’s part and parcel of colonialism to enlist people into the very systems that oppress them and their peers.
To be clear, I do not disapprove of Indigenous people and other racialised people accepting the awards. But I absolutely disapprove of the awards system itself in its current form.
Criminology and Justice Studies
RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria.
HDR Member, Social and Global Studies Centre
I support Dr Willing’s decision to return her OAM as a response to awarding an AC to Margaret Court.
Dr Willing is a deserving and esteemed member of the multiple communities that she is a part of. She has been honoured with an OAM for her ongoing contribution towards the Adopted Vietnamese International organisation. She shares this award’s status with her fellow adopted Vietnamese community, bringing visibility and strength to their identities. The Order of Australia provides special status for Australians’ ongoing effort and achievement. The award can encourage Australians to contribute towards the values shared by many in this country. In 2021, we see how disruptive the harmful, regressive attitudes of others that are popular. When we use our institutions to heighten the status of those who discriminate others in our community, we build the walls of access for others to achieve.
Margaret Court has received multiple awards and Australian honours for her sporting achievement. However, her ongoing contribution to the community as a private citizen is no longer of means for recognition for broader Australian society. Indeed, her legacy is to posit a significant perspective in her current standing, which excludes many throughout Australia. By providing extraordinary status to another voice of prejudice against LGBTIQ+ people, consider the kind of status you are leveraging.
Significantly, the Order of Australia loses this status out of protest, and consequence from decisions to award the honour to those who espouse hate. For example, Dr Indigo Willing, who shares her position and power throughout intersecting communities. It is likely that others, with their own influence or platform, will do the same. This decision calls a challenge to the institution of the Order of Australia.
Professor Simone Fullagar
Chair, Sport and Gender Equity Research Hub
Gold Coast campus
Griffith University, QLD 4222 Australia.
The recent decision to award Margaret Court Australia Day Honours for her ‘significant contribution’ to Australian society starkly contradicts the purported values of fairness and inclusion that supposedly underpin ‘our’ national identity and sport for all ethos. This symbolic gesture serves to amplify hate and discrimination towards the LGBTIQ+ community. This decision is out of touch with research that clearly points to changing attitudes towards gender and sexual identity, and the harmful impact of discriminatory discourse on the mental health and suicide rates of already marginalised individuals. It is also a national award system that displays wilful ignorance of contemporary understandings of social inclusion as well as cultural disrespect to First Nations people on Invasion Day.
Dr Sue Whatman
Doctor of Education (EdD) Program Director
Program Advisor for HPE Double Major, Bachelor of Education (1567)
Senior Lecturer in Health and Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy
School of Education and Professional Studies, Gold Coast campus
Griffith University, QLD 4222 Australia.
I am writing to express my thanks and offer my ongoing support for your decision to return your Medal in the Order of Australia (OAM), which was awarded by the Australian Government in recognition of your outstanding service to the Vietnamese community in Australia. Your stance, brave and honorable, sends a clear message to the Government that an OAM is for people who support all Australians without discrimination. The 2021 awards were given to many deserving individuals whose service work does not discriminate but the Government needs to hear your message, as well as the united voices of people who support the returning of OAMs by many previous winners, that even one award to someone who actively discriminates against Australians because of their gender/ sexuality is not acceptable.
Dr Ben Green
Postdoctoral Resident Adjunct | Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research
Sessional Academic I School of Humanities, Languages & Social Science
As a cultural sociologist, I study how symbols and rituals both represent and shape who we are. To ourselves and to the rest of the world, our national day speaks of what defines us; our honours and awards convey what we value and who we aspire to be. So it is our right and our duty to ask: do these institutions reflect and empower us, or distort and reduce us? Are they inclusive and democratic, or exclusive and elitist? I am inspired by the OAM recipients who have returned their hard-earned awards in pursuit of our collective potential, and I join these Australian heroes in demanding symbols and rituals we can all be proud of.
Dr Aurélie Pankowiak
Research Fellow, Sport Policy/ Management
The Institute for Health and Sport (iHeS), Victoria University
I support my fellow ally, Dr. Indigo Willing, in her decision to return her OAM. In this document, my colleagues have listed the many societal and ethical reasons as to why awarding Margaret Court with the Australia Day Honours is simply wrong. With this statement, I stand as an ally of the LGBTIQ+ community and First Nation people.
Dr. Ryan S. Gustafsson
University of Melbourne
The Margaret Court controversy sends a strong message regarding
what Australia’s honour system condones and what it celebrates. In the social sciences, we are trained to be attuned to processes and forms of marginalization: the various ways they are sustained and enacted, and the impacts these have on individuals and communities. It is hence necessary to critique such an outright, blatant social sanctioning of discriminatory and harmful views.
Professor Sandy O’Sullivan (Wiradjuri)
Future Fellow 2020-2024
Department of Indigenous Studies
Dr Willing is a close and highly valued colleague in my research community. In accepting the OAM, she understood that it was not only in recognition of her contribution, but that it acknowledged the importance of an international network to connect and support Vietnamese adoptees. The work required to establish and sustain this network, is a testament to her commitment to positively enriching the lives of others.
It’s difficult to imagine a more deserving recipient than Dr Willing, but every year decisions are made to award those who make similar remarkable contributions to Australian life. It’s for this reason that the awarding of an OAM to Margaret Court has come as a shock to many across communities in Australia. As a transgender Aboriginal person, committed to the service of others as a researcher and scholar, I was appalled to see Court not only awarded, but rewarded in this way, when the totality of her contribution to public life over the last few decades has been in spouting transphobic and homophobic hatred, and having never addressed her racism from decades before.
I can only imagine Dr Willing’s horror at seeing the kind of ‘contribution’ system had deemed worthy of this honour. Although I am sorry to see her returning her award, I can understand how tarnished it must feel to be grouped in with someone who has done such a disservice to all Australians.
BA, Sociology & Indigenous Studies, Sydney University
As an Indigenous (Gomeroi) Photojournalist/Sports Photographer who shoots sideline NRL/AFL, I am well aware of the powerful representation of the sporting image.
We idolise & revere our sportsman & women. Put them on pedestals and sometimes see them as heroes. It has been noted Australia defines its identity as a sporting nation.
Hate speech & discrimination in the guise of religious beliefs to exclude & marginalise members of the LBTQI community should not be rewarded in the Australia Day honours list.
I fully support Dr Indigo Willing in the hand back of her OAM in protest and support of the gay, queer & trans community
Evie Ryder BSW
AOD Support Worker for Open Doors
Co-founder of Girl Skate Brisbane
Pronouns She/ Her
As a social worker I spend almost every day of my work helping young Trans and Gender Diverse people survive suicide. This work has such a large impact on my mental health it often leaves me feeling suicidal. For many, these suicidal feeling and thoughts are a direct result of Stigma and discrimination caused by fear and hatred. Margaret Court’s very public transphobic statements only fuel transphobia in Australia community making it harder for me to keep young people and myself alive. It brings me great sadness and pain to see a Medal in the Order of Australia (OAM) awarded to Margaret Court. I feel it has only enshrined and enabled Margaret’s transphobic comments. I believe this honour system needs serious redress before I can ever have faith in it again. I applaud Dr. Indigo Willing in her outstanding service to the Vietnamese community and am deeply honoured by her act in returning her OAM. I only hope this act is not in vain and that the Government will stop using OAM to celebrate Australians perpetuate and advocate for discrimination against transgender people.
Professor Dr Fiona Nicoll
Political Science Department,
University of Alberta,
Author of From Diggers to Drag Queens: Configurations of Australian National Identity (Pluto Press, 2001)
I am deeply saddened by the decision of Dr Indigo Willing to return her richly deserved OAM. Having said this, I unreservedly support her decision as a person who was brought up within a Christian church, as a person who has been in a same sex relationship for over two decades, and as a person who was told that I had to stop playing AFL football after puberty because I was a girl.
I supervised Dr Willing’s research thesis on the experience of transnational adoptee parents almost a decade ago. It was at this time that I became aware of her exceptional volunteer work among the transnational adoptee community for which she received her OAM. Publications from Dr Willing’s research have made a significant impact across several fields, including sociology, critical race and whiteness studies, adoption studies and celebrity studies. Her most recent research and teaching work has forged a new area of study at the intersection of race, gender, and cultural studies of sport and leisure. In particular, her investigation of the experience and advocacy of the rights of racialised, trans and non-binary participants in skateboarding and its subcultures is generating inclusive citizenship through healthy enjoyment of public spaces in Australia.
Dr Willing’s tireless intellectual, volunteer and advocacy work continues to make Australia a better place for everyone. In contrast, Margaret Court has used a platform of success in the sporting arena to disseminate a highly discriminatory and judgemental vision of what it means to be Australian in 2021. While Rev. Court is entitled to her private views about gender and sexuality, it is an abuse of her celebrity and religious position to promulgate these views publicly where they are exposed to talented young LGBTI people who may already be questioning whether they belong in the world of organized sport, let alone its highest levels. Most Australians will be aware of the courage it took for Ian Thorpe to come out as a gay man in the world of competitive swimming, as well as the entrenched homophobia afflicting men’s cricket and football codes. The relatively high proportion of women to come out at the highest levels of these sports (as well as tennis) is a testimony to their role in creating a more inclusive culture for sexual and gender diversity in sports.
The public statements of Rev. Court threaten to undo the inclusive society that Dr Willing has devoted her life to support and have devalued the currency of these awards. While Dr Willing will no doubt continue excellent community service as an academic and volunteer for the public good, my hope is that Reverend Court will contain her personal views to enable the same, particularly in the important cultural arena of sports in Australia.
Dr Laura Rodriguez Castro
Adjunct Research Fellow
Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research
The Order of Australia has a responsibility to be held accountable for promoting prejudice and discrimination due to its privilege and symbolic value. As a researcher and educator working in the intersections of anti-racism and feminism, I stand in opposition of the recent award of an Order of Australia medal to Margaret Court and the system’s continuing denial of the colonial violence it upholds. I reject the hatred embedded in the decisions of the OA especially directed at LGBTIQ+ and First Nations people. I stand in solidarity with Dr Indigo Willing’s decision to return her OAM and join the call for serious institutional commitment within the Order of Australia to dismantle the systems that continue to promote discrimination and hate.
Dr Josephine Browne
Adjunct Research Fellow
Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research
I write in support of my colleagues and others, as part of a response of protest to the Australia Day award bestowed on Margaret Court in 2021. While an honours system is a desirable part of any celebration of Australian achievements, it is not separate from the responsibility we share to promote values of inclusion and community in such awards. Achievements such as those of Dr Willing, which contribute to support, community and care for other Australians, deserve to be recognised and celebrated. As a former Social Welfare Worker and now Social Science Academic, my training asserts that there is no such thing as neutrality. The bestowing of awards on Australians who are divisive and cruel to any people in our communities, particularly marginalised minority groups, sends a destructive message. This award given to Margaret Court impacts those who, like Dr Willing, have contributed powerfully and constructively to build visibility and belonging for others in our country. I have deep respect for the actions of those who are returning their sadly diminished rewards, as a protest against the Margaret Court decision, as well as a challenge to reconsidering how, to whom, and when such honours are given in future.
Dr Steven Roberts
Associate Professor of Sociology
Deputy Associate Dean (Graduate Research), Faculty of Arts
I write in support of Dr Willing’s decision to return her OAM Medal as an act of protest against the recent award of the Companion to the Order of Australia to Margaret Court. I support and admire this decision in the strongest possible terms.
Dr Willing’s principled decision is premised on the core values of the discipline of sociology, which seeks to understand, evidence and – moreover – challenge and change structures of power and oppression. It is a discipline that recognises that equality is a fundamental human right, and that the production and safe guarding of such rights requires action. Dr Willing’s decision to return her OAM is an enactment of those values and a clear condemnation of injustice.
It is now well documented that Margaret Court’s views on the LGBTQI+ community are founded on ignorance and intolerance. These views are dangerous and contribute to the diminished sense of self worth that underpins terrifying levels of self harm and mental ill health among LGBTQI+ people living in Australia. This form of intolerance cannot be endorsed through the honours system, and our right not to tolerate the intolerant – in the words of Popper – should not be undermined by disingenuous calls for the protection of religious freedom. Court retains her religious freedom and wider freedoms of speech, but the content of those views render her unavoidably incompatible with the positive national recognition notionally imbued in the honours awards system.
Tolerance of difference is a very low bar. It is not the antidote to intolerance. Full acceptance and celebration of difference is the only way to undo the architecture of prejudice. However, Dr Willing’s protest is only in service of the request for a bare minimum of action. There is no call here to enforce that recipients of OAMs move beyond being prejudiced and to take up the necessary and desirable stance of being *anti* prejudice. There is no call to demand a celebration of difference. There is no call here to strip Court of previous recognition for her services to sport. There is simply a call to recognise the damage done by an implicit endorsement of Court’s intolerance and its threats to human dignity, and to revoke the recent award of Companion to the Order of Australia.
It is a sharp and stinging irony that Dr Willing’s actions here, in contrast to Court, are aligned with the values – such as respect for human dignity, rationality, sacrifice, individuality, equality – for which Australia claims to stand. Self-sacrifice, and speaking up for others who have no voice, are the kinds of values one hopes and expects to characterise the recipients of national celebration.
*Overviews of community protests and why include at:
Image: Indigo will the OAM medal she was awarded in 2006 for volunteer services to the adopted Vietnamese community. Indigo continues this work with her community and has done so for over 20 years. Photo taken more recently as historically archive the honour.