Bhubaneswar: About 22 years ago, a popular comedian and public figure, Ellen DeGeneres, walked out of the closet and spoke out loud about her sexuality. Ever since, she has been an integral part of LGBTQIA+ movements across the globe. She never fails to extend her support and love to anyone who braves to come out of the closet. The very recent being our very own athlete, Dutee Chand, who has been creating headlines for having been the first Indian sportsperson to open up that she is in a ‘same-sex relationship with her partner.’
Ellen took to instagram and wrote, “She’s a 100m record holder and the first openly gay sportsperson in India. I guess she knows a thing or two about being first. I’m so proud of her.”
However, this is definitely not the first time an athlete has opened up about her homosexuality. Ace tennis player Martina Navratilova was among the first to have come out of the closet. That is not it. There were also books written about the same among which ‘Jocks: The True Stories of America’s Gay Athletes’, by Dan Woog, brought out dozens of athletes’ stories.
However, in the history of sports, Bill Tilden, who is widely considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time was the first to come out. Tilden was gay in an era when homosexuality was not tolerated. He was arrested, convicted and put in jail twice for homosexual encounters. When this became public knowledge, he was no longer allowed to enter tennis clubs or to play on the professional circuit. It reached to an extent where the Germantown Cricket Club, where he had won many of his Davis Cup matches, removed his pictures from their walls. The same happened at Forest Hills, where to this day, there is only one photograph of him on the wall.
Later in 1972, Title IX was passed that brought a hint of positive change in the whole environment. It said, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”.
Things got reeling in 1977 after Rene Richards, a trans woman tennis player won a lawsuit against the United States Tennis Association because she was barred from competing as a woman in the 1976 US open.
A new agenda was then set for women in Sports Conference, in 1982, in which leaders declined to use the word ‘lesbian’ in any action proposals. The Gay Games, that started in 1982, was a new wave of LGBTQIA+ revolution. Its international federation exists to serve the needs of athletes, artists and activists. Their mission is to promote equality for all, in particular for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people throughout the world. Then, the second Gay Games were held in 1986 in San Francisco. The recent one was organised in Paris in 2018. In fact, the third Gay Games in 1990, in Vancouver was the largest sporting event in the world that year. The fourth Gay Games in New York City in 1994, was again the largest athletic competition in history with 11,000 participants.
Post these, several major sportspeople came out, including rugby player Ian Roberts, world champion figure skater Brian Orser, LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, top ranked French tennis player Amelie Maureso and LPGA Hall of Famer Rosie Jones.
In 1998, the first book to explore homophobia in women’s sports titled, ‘Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia’ by Pat Griffin, was published. A major step post that, was IOC suspending mandatory gender testing for women athletes in 2000. Two years later, the National Center for Lesbian Rights initiated the Homophobia in Sports Project to provide legal and advocacy support for athletes and coaches discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In 2004, the International Olympic Committee announced the Stockholm Consensus, a policy that establishes criteria under which trans athletes can compete in the Olympic Games in their identified gender.
The community came out with ‘rainbow’ flying colours at the Beijing Games in 2008, when eleven openly gay, lesbian and bisexual Olympians won a total of seven medals. There have been several significant events after that, proving the community’s calibre. Dutee Chand only adds to the glory of the community. India legalised homosexuality in September last year, giving Dutee and others like her the freedom to choose their partner. Odisha also held a pride parade to vocally demand equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. Dutee’s statement, supposedly, will strengthen everyone’s will.