The remarkable rebellion of Dutee Chand

The daughter of impoverished parents is India’s first openly gay athlete. But what we will remember and judge her for is being a first-rate athlete.

Dutee Chand is not known to shy away from a challenge. One of seven children born to impoverished weavers in Jajpur, Odisha, the sprinter was barely 20 years old when she challenged the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) on its rule on hyperandrogenism, a condition she is born with and one that causes naturally high levels of testosterone in women.

The IAAF suggested she opt for corrective surgery or hormone treatment. She went to court instead.

Questions about her gender were played out in humiliating public view. At Switzerland’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), she argued that her privacy and human rights had been violated.

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What makes us human? The right to love

In Hindustan Times: I argue that Section 377, which criminalises sex against ‘the order of nature’, should be scrapped because it is past its use-by date, conforms to outdated values of marriage and family and is a blatant violation of human rights. 

When Padma Iyer’s son, Harish, told her he was gay in the early 2000s, LGBTQ was a jumble of letters that meant nothing to the conservative Tamil mom. But she remembers telling him, “Don’t tell your father, and don’t let the relatives know.”

She says: “My instinct was to protect him. I could accept him but was afraid my family would not.”

Today, Padma Iyer is on TV and on YouTube explaining Evening Shadows, a crowd-funded film by Sridhar Rangayan about a mother from a small town whose gay son comes out to her.

“So many parents ask me for advice,” says Iyer. It was for these parents that Rangayan launched Sweekar, a support group, in December 2016.

But the sad truth is that many LGBTQ face violence from their own families. “The parental family most often perpetrates domestic violence faced by lesbians,” finds a 2003 report, The Nature of Violence Faced by Lesbian Women in India, by Bina Fernandez and Gomathy NB of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). This violence includes verbal and physical abuse, confinement and coercion into marriage.

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