Less than a year after India’s top court overturned the country’s age-old ban on gay sex, a champion sprinter has become the first athlete in the country to openly acknowledge being gay.
Dutee Chand, a 23-year-old who made headlines in 2015 for successfully fighting to be allowed to compete against women despite a condition that naturally produces high testosterone levels, revealed that she has been in a same-sex relationship for five years. Chand, a member of the national track and field team who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, has an elevated testosterone level caused by a condition known as hyperandrogenism.
Chand, who declined to reveal her partner’s identity to protect her privacy, said she decided to speak out about her sexuality after India’s Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex last September. “I have found someone who is my soul mate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with,” she told the Indian Express. “I have always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship. It is an individual person’s choice. Currently, my focus is on the World Championships and the Olympic Games but in the future I would like to settle down with her.”
LGBT marriage is not something India recognizes, even though it no longer prohibits same-sex unions. But attitudes have not fully changed since a 158-year-old British-era law that criminalizing private same-sex relations between consenting adults was changed last year. Even some in Chand’s family have not accepted her news. “My eldest sister feels that my partner is interested in my property,” she said. “She has told me that she will send me to jail for having this relationship.”
Chand’s announcement was, according to one observer, “huge” for the country. Payoshni Mitra, an Indian researcher who is an advocate focusing on gender issues in sports, tweeted that she had “always been proud” of Chand and “admired her courage.” She added, “It is not easy to come out in certain societies. This is huge for India!”
A year after she became the first Indian sprinter to reach the final at a global athletics event, Chand was banned from competition by the Athletics Federation of India in 2014 after tests showed that her natural testosterone level was above those set for women by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of track and field. She was banned for a year and told that she could return to the national team if she lowered her testosterone level. She refused and alleged in an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport that the policy was discriminatory.
The court struck down the rule in 2015, saying that science had not determined natural testosterone’s role in athletics. Chand began competing again and won silver medals in the 100- and 200-meter races at the Asian Games last year.
A new IAAF rule, however, shows that gender remains an unsettled issue in athletics and earlier this month, the court dismissed an appeal by Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion runner from South Africa who is believed to have an intersex condition that causes her body to naturally produce testosterone at levels much higher than most women. By a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel agreed that IAAF rules are discriminatory in nature, “but the majority of the Panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics,” the court said in its executive summary.
Chand is training for the World Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.