Olympic athlete Dutee Chand is happy to see that society, at large, is becoming more accepting and tolerant
When sprinter Dutee Chand came out in 2019, she took the entire country by storm by being the first Indian LGBTQAI+ sportsperson to do make a public announcement. Thankfully, life hasn’t changed much for her as far as her profession goes, while personally, she feels happy that she and her partner can now hold hands publicly, and even travel together without fear.
By being open about her sexuality, Dutee has not only become an inspiration for many still closeted because of an unwelcoming society, but has also set an example that in order to change things, one has to show the courage to raise their voice and make others listen.
Tracing back to 2019, Dutee Chand recalls that she actually had no idea about the LGBTQAI+ community, or what the word ‘lesbian’ meant. “I met my partner (Monalisa) for the first time in 2017 at a village festival where we shared phone numbers. The girl kept in touch with me regularly, talking about my performances, and how much honour I was bringing to our country. Soon we became quite close — sharing our happiness, sorrows, fears, and every detail with each other. After some months, we realised that we would want to spend the rest of our lives together, and even get married. I never thought about whether it’s right or wrong to think like that. Everything felt absolutely normal to me,” India’s current women’s 100m champion, who competed at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, tells MW.
When the duo approached their respective parents about their reality, her partner’s parents didn’t have any issue, but Dutee’s mother and sister were not comfortable in accepting her, and went public with this information. Since Dutee had already faced suspension from athletics by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) in 2014, due to perceived female hyperandrogenism (that ruling was reversed in 2015 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport), she didn’t want to risk her chance at the Olympics, and decided to take matters in her own hand.
“I decided to come out to the world after the Tokyo Olympics [then still set for 2020], but since my sister made it public before I could, my biggest fear was being robbed of the opportunity to compete. I had already fought a tough battle over the hyperandrogenism rule to earn the right to run again, and I didn’t want to throw that away,” Dutee Chand had said in an interview with ESPN.
Thankfully, her fears didn’t come true, and she received support not only from the sporting community but also from people across various sections of society and her relatives and friends too. “The Athletics Federation assured me that this information will not affect my sporting career, and several sports persons congratulated me on my decision. I also received a lot of support through social media. Several people messaged me saying that I don’t have to worry as even Supreme Court has allowed same-sex relationships. They assured me that soon, my parents would also accept it, and I have every right to choose the way I wanted to live my life, which says a lot about the changing times and growing acceptance among people,” says the 26-year-old sprinter, currently based at the National camp in Hyderabad.
Dutee never anticipated the kind of response she would get from everyone in the world, including the LGBTQ+ community. “I was only concerned with the sports federation, and how this would affect my career. Getting interviewed by magazines, being on their cover, or being invited to TV shows was something I could have never imagined. But I’m happy that after my speaking up, several people have found the strength to take a similar stand. Today, if someone comes to me in a similar situation, I tell them to cite my example, and go ahead with their decision,” says Dutee, adding that a few same sex couples from her state, Odisha, actually got married after being inspired by her.
She is also happy to see that today, parents have also started understanding their children and with education and changing mindsets, society, at large, is becoming more accepting and tolerant. “Earlier, if a girl didn’t get married by a certain age, she would find it difficult to even stay at her own house. Today, the girl’s father would ask her for her opinion and give her the choice to marry or not to marry at all,” says Dutee Chand, who also plans to marry her partner at the right time, and that would be “something that the whole world would see.”
She’s no less than a celebrity, of course, so her coming out impacts the society and minds of many. “I have never thought of myself as one, but yes, when people tell me that we read about you and the bold decisions you took, it feels good. The thing that matters to me the most is the fact that I can be with my partner without having to worry about being caught in any controversy. Some time back, went on a two-day tour to Delhi and a few other places, and it felt good to be able to hold hands and enjoy our time together,” reveals Dutee, whose story inspired author Sundeep Misra to come out with a book titled Fiercely Feminine last year.
While the athlete is busy with her training in Hyderabad, her partner, who is from the same village as her, is busy finishing her education. Does staying away from her make Dutee apprehensive about their relationship? “I have no insecurities about this relationship as my partner faces bigger challenges every day by living in the village. She has been brave enough to face all ordeals and stand up for love, and that makes me very sure about our relationship,” she says.
Would she want to take up issues related to the LGBTQ+ community on a bigger level in the future? “Right now, I am only focusing on improving my performance as I am my biggest competitor. And, I want to focus on the next Olympics in Paris. Although I haven’t planned anything, but if I get a chance, then I would love to try my hand at politics for sure, so that I could stand up for others’ rights,” she says, adding that, “Everyone has the right to live the way they want, and only you can decide for yourself who you really are, what kind of life you want to lead and with whom by your side.”
To dreaming on, and never apologising for who you are.