Indian sprinter Dutee Chand has revealed she is in a same-sex relationship, becoming the first openly gay athlete in the socially conservative country.
Chand, 23, told The Indian Express on Sunday she was in a relationship with a woman from her village in eastern Odisha state, saying she got the courage to come out after India’s top court scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex last year.
“I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with,” said Chand, the fastest woman in the country.
“I’ve always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship. It is an individual person’s choice.”
Chand, who won two silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games, said while her focus was on upcoming international competitions, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, “in the future I would like to settle down with her”.
Chand said nobody had the right to judge her as an athlete because of her sexual orientation, which was a personal decision that should be respected.
“I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied,” she said.
She did not reveal her partner’s identity to save her from “undue attention”.
Social media users praised Chand for her courage, with prominent Indian LGBT plus rights activist Harish Iyer calling her a “beacon of hope”.
“Dutee Chand has paved the path for many, by simply standing up for herself,” he said on Twitter.
@DuteeChand has paved the path for many, by simply standing up for herself.
In a world obsessed with HIStory and ridden with the banr misogyny and patriarchy it is important to note that the sportsperson coming out movement is led by HERstory.
— harish 🏳️🌈 (@hiyer) May 19, 2019
Dutee Chand just made it easier for a whole lot of young girls to be able to come out as queer or at least to feel more okay with their sexuality. Props to her and her bravery.
— Mahima Kukreja 🌱🌈✊🏽 (@AGirlOfHerWords) May 19, 2019
Mahima Kukreja wrote: “Dutee Chand just made it easier for a whole lot of young girls to be able to come out as queer or at least to feel more okay with their sexuality.”
Like South African Olympic athlete Caster Semenya, Chand has hyperandrogenism – a condition that naturally produces high testosterone levels.
She was previously barred from competing under International Association of Athletics Federations rules and subjected to abuse for being “unfeminine”.
But Chand won an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2015, paving the way for athletes with hyperandrogenism to compete in 100m and 200m races.
The decision allowed her to run in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
However, the CAS this month rejected a similar appeal by Semenya against rules requiring middle-distance female athletes with a high testosterone level to take medication to reduce it.
Chand told local media the ruling made her “very sad”.