Veteran television journalist Kerry O’Brien has rejected a prestigious Australia Day award in solidarity with the LGBTQI community.
Critics have piled on the ceremony after it was announced controversial former tennis great Margaret Court would be one of just four people given the nation’s highest honour in 2021 and made a Companion of the Order of Australia.
Among the 845 recipients in 2021, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, Jewish community leader Dr John Levi and mathematician Cheryl Praeger will also receive the nation’s top honour.
O’Brien, a legendary ABC reporter with more than 50 years experience, was to be appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia – the second highest honour.
He had already agreed to accept the award, but wrote to the governor general’s secretary on Sunday to inform him of his decision to recant his acceptance.
In the letter, O’Brien reportedly cited Court’s ‘hurtful and divisive criticisms relating to the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community’, The Guardian reported.
O’Brien (pictured), a legendary ABC reporter with more than 50 years’ experience, was to be appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia – the second highest honour
He had already agreed to accept the award, but wrote to the governor general’s secretary on Sunday to inform of his decision to recant his acceptance after learning Margaret Court (pictured) would also be recognised
He said her views were ‘repugnant to many Australians’ and that he would refuse the award in solidarity with transgender doctor Clara Tuck Meng Soo, who last week handed back her own award to protest Court’s appointment.
Despite his decision, O’Brien accepted that ‘there are many well-meaning people involved in the Order of Australia process’ and regretted having to reverse his acceptance.
Court was given the top gong ‘for eminent service to tennis as an internationally acclaimed player and record-holding grand slam champion, and as a mentor of young sportspersons.’
But O’Brien said the decision would ‘serve to erode the hard-fought gains made over decades in reducing the impact of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community’.
‘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,’ he added.
Instead, he argued Dr Soo ‘epitomises the true spirit of the Order of Australia’.
Clara Tuck Meng Soo (pictured, left) says the decision to award Australia’s highest honour to the outspoken tennis great ‘promotes discrimination’ to LGBTQ people
Kerry O’Brien is the latest to hand back his Order of Australia medal in protest of revelations Margaret Court (pictured) will receive the country’s top award in the Australia Day honours list
Dr Soo received an Order of Australia Medal in 2016 for her work as a medical practitioner with the LGBTQ community and people with HIV.
A statement issued by Just Equal identified her as one of the first GPs to undergo gender transition in Australia.
‘I have spent a significant amount of my working life working with and advocating for disadvantaged communities in Australia,’ Dr Soo said.
‘I may also add that I have spent most of my adult life as a gay man before my gender transition to a woman in 2018.
‘I therefore have both professional experience as well as lived experience of the communities that Mrs Margaret Court makes these derogatory and hurtful remarks about.’
Dr Soo received an Order of Australia Medal in 2016 for her work as a medical practitioner with the LGBTQ community and people with HIV
Just Equal spokesperson Ivan Hinton-Teoh urged the Council of the Order of Australia to reconsider its decision.
He said there would be ‘many distinguished Australians’ reconsidering their association with the awards system in light of the honour.
Gai Waterhouse will also become an Officer in the General Division for her impact on the horse racing industry and role model for young women.
Several other recipients were rewarded for their efforts during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.
Court – the winner of an unparalleled 24 grand slam singles titles – described the honour as a great privilege.
The 78-year-old is also a Pentecostal minister who has come under fire in recent years for her public disparaging of same-sex relationships and transgender people.
Court – the winner of an unparalleled 24 grand slam singles titles – described the honour as a great privilege
‘All my life I’ve had those views and I was just saying what the Bible says,’ she said.
‘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.
‘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.
‘We never turn a person away and I think it’s been tried to be made out that I’m somebody that I’m not really. And I think that is very sad.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said compilation of the Honours List was an independent process.
Federal Labor has questioned why Court was given the top honour when she had already been recognised for her sporting prowess with an Order of Australia membership.
For access to the full list of 2021 recipients, click here.