Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

When considering transgender sports bans, chess typically isn’t the first to come to mind. While physical sports have captured the main focus of transphobic rhetoric, we can’t ignore the sinister bans happening right under our noses.

The International Chess Federation decided to bar transgender women from competing in women’s competitions last year. It also stripped titles trans men won in women’s categories before transition, saying they would not renew them unless the player detransitions and can prove their previous identity.

According to the federation, a change in gender has a “significant impact on player status” that requires further consideration, something usually mentioned in a physical context.

By setting such a disgusting precedent in a more obscure sport, it was able to slip under the radar overshadowed by the multitude of transphobic laws affecting physical sports. More recently, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics banned trans women and anyone going through masculinizing hormone therapy from participating in women’s sports.

The blatant exclusion of trans chess players sets a dangerous precedent — nearly all mind sports could see this as the go-ahead to discriminate. If gender now purportedly affects mental ability as well as physical ability, other leagues may also rely on this unconfirmed scientific research.

To combat the transphobia demonstrated by the chess federation, chess tournaments need to get rid of gendered competitions altogether and debunk the idea that gender influences mental ability. We need to expel these bans from chess and demand transparent research, or else there is no chance for equity in physical sports.

Removing gendered tournaments is long overdue. Separating elite chess tournaments into open and female categories implicitly discourages the top women from competing against the top men, reinforcing the sexist idea that women just aren’t as good at chess.

While it’s true that trans players can compete in the “open” section of tournaments, the existence of gendered tournaments alienates transgender players. Axing gender-restricted tournaments would benefit all players by allowing them to compete against everyone and prove they are the best of the best.

Some may argue getting rid of female-only competitions will allow the sheer number of men competing to overtake the number of women. It’s true, many more men compete in chess than women. This is a problem in its own right — we need to encourage everyone to practice, compete and win chess tournaments, not just cis men. The myth that men have more potential when it comes to chess is unfounded, and transitioning won’t magically change a person’s ability to play chess.

Getting rid of these gendered restrictions and increasing resources to support players who are not cisgender men could create a more equitable chess culture.

If these restrictions are kept, mind competitions in subjects such as robotics or math could potentially follow suit and ban transgender competitors to the detriment of inclusivity. If these male-dominated competitions decide to follow the federation’s logic, then they may adopt transphobic policies in the illusion of “fairness.”

These leagues need to make their research transparent as well. It’s simply not true that transitioning gives you an unfair advantage when it comes to mind sports, and it is important to see exactly how these leagues are conducting their research. Pushing an agenda is dangerous, especially for well-known leagues. If mind sports are not transparent and publish faulty research, it will give all sports leagues the go-ahead to discriminate.

In light of these transphobic bans, mind sports leagues need to do their part to ensure trans participants feel welcome. Creating policies supporting equity and inclusion, such as allowing equal use of resources and the ability to compete regardless of gender or sex, can set a strong example for physical sports leagues to follow.

If we allow transphobic rhetoric to enter spaces having nothing to do with physicality, then we are losing important ground. Mind sports leagues need to do their part to include and protect everyone.

As disappointing as the International Chess Federation’s guidelines are, there is still hope. The Olympics themselves updated their guidelines to allow all transgender participants to compete, no longer citing past the hormone level requirements. This is a huge step forward when it comes to making sports equitable.

If one of the biggest sporting events in the world can reach this point, others can too. As long as we don’t let anyone keep us from fighting, speaking out and most importantly – playing chess.

Isabella Cusack is a sophomore english and public policy major. She can be reached at