Sprinter Dutee Chand Becomes India’s First Openly Gay Athlete

A champion sprinter with village roots has become India’s first openly gay professional athlete, less than a year after the country’s top court overturned a longstanding ban on gay sex.

A member of India’s national track and field team, Dutee Chand, 23, was previously known for fighting for the right to race against other women. She has hyperandrogenism, a condition that naturally produces high testosterone levels, and which in 2014 prompted the sport’s governing body to ban her from competition. The decision was reversed a year later after she challenged it in court.

On Sunday, Ms. Chand was quoted by an Indian newspaper as saying that she was in a same-sex relationship with a woman from her rural village in eastern India. She said she was inspired to go public after September’s ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that unanimously struck down a colonial-era ban on consensual gay sex.

“I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love,” Ms. Chand said in an interview with The Sunday Express. “There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied.”

Many Indians are socially conservative, and go to great lengths to arrange marriages with the right families or castes. Countless gay people there have been shunned by their parents and persecuted by society, and few think that a same-sex marriage law is on the near horizon.

Ms. Chand said in the interview that she hoped to settle down with her partner sometime after the upcoming World Championships and the Olympic Games in Tokyo. She declined to name her partner, saying that she did not want her to become the object of undue attention.

Ms. Chand’s announcement — which came amid news that the country’s conservative prime minister, Narendra Modi, appeared headed for re-election — prompted jubilant responses from her longtime supporters.

“I have always been proud of @DuteeChand and admired her courage,” Payoshni Mitra, an Indian researcher who has advocated on behalf of Ms. Chand and other intersex athletes, said on Twitter.

“It is not easy to come out in certain societies,” Ms. Mitra added. “This is huge for India!”

Adille J. Sumariwalla, the president of the Athletics Federation of India, described Ms. Chand’s announcement as a personal matter that the federation “has nothing to do with.”

“We support our athletes in every way to perform better without getting into their personal lives and totally respect their privacy,” he said in an email on Monday.

Ms. Chand was raised in Gopalpur, a village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, by illiterate parents who earned less than $8 a week as weavers. Her legal fight for the right to race against other women — at a moment when biology is no longer seen as the sole determinant of gender — has been closely watched as a bellwether of how sports bodies should set boundaries between male and female competitors.

The dispute began in 2014, when the Athletics Federation of India gave Ms. Chand an ultrasound and told the government that it had “definite doubts” about her gender.

Further tests showed that Ms. Chand’s natural testosterone levels were above what track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, deemed acceptable at the time for female competitors. Officials banned Ms. Chand from competition for a year, and said she could return to the Indian national team only if she medically reduced her testosterone level.

But Ms. Chand refused and filed a case at the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, a kind of Supreme Court for international sports, arguing that the I.A.A.F.’s testosterone policy was discriminatory. Many saw the rule as yet another example of international sports organizations policing women for having “masculine” qualities.

In 2015, a three-judge panel in the case struck down the I.A.A.F.’s rule, saying that the exact role natural testosterone plays in athleticism remained unknown. Ms. Chand promptly returned to competition, and last year won silver medals at the Asian Games in the 100-meter and 200-meter races.

But a new I.A.A.F. rule requires female athletes who have male-patterned chromosomes to regulate their hormone levels if they wish to compete in middle-distance races.

In May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed an appeal against that rule by Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion runner from South Africa.

Ms. Semenya had called the rule, which went into effect this month, “discriminatory, irrational, unjustifiable.” But the court said that while she had “done nothing whatsoever to warrant any personal criticism,” the rule was necessary to maintain fair competition in female athletics.

Ms. Chand, who had supported Ms. Semenya’s appeal, criticized the rule.

“This is a wrong policy of the I.A.A.F. and whatever reason they are giving, it is wrong,” she was quoted as saying at the time.

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