Black and white cartoon drawing of people representing the LGBTQ community, with rainbow flags and symbols.

Pride Month 2024

Stand together!

When you read the title of this blog, what thoughts went through your head? There was an immediate, gut reaction - maybe negative, maybe positive, or maybe feeling resigned to yet another session of virtue signalling. Maybe you were hopeful or curious or cynical that anything worthwhile would be said. We all make snap decisions every day, and if we had to make all those choices with conscious care and attention we would no doubt come to a grinding halt. But some things are worth considering more deeply.

We have written before about the history of pride month, the reasons for its existence, and its ongoing necessity. Over the last year, the international governing body for the game, FIDE, showed an example of how a lack of deep consideration can lead to negative and severe consequences with their transgender registration regulations. We made a statement at the time, that we hoped FIDE would reconsider, but at time of writing they have not.
Lichess statement on FIDE regulations
Lichess Statement on FIDE Regulations

Many of the most marginalised within the chess community still feel — fairly — that their voices are not adequately heard. Many feel that they still lack the rights to compete in chess without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety and dignity. Facing prejudice, many feel that the issues and challenges they face were used as the latest prop in a culture-war. So, this pride month, we would like to highlight the issues with the regulations as they currently stand.

FIDE is an IOC (International Olympics Committee) recognised federation, and could take its lead from IOC policy. The IOC specifies a number of guidelines to protect sports and trans athletes, which FIDE seemingly did not consider when making their policy. For example, FIDE seems to have ignored key sections, such as those from section 5 and 6, from the IOC’s guidance:

No presumption of advantage
- No athlete should be precluded from competing or excluded from competition on the exclusive ground of an unverified, alleged, or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.
- Until evidence (per principle 6) determines otherwise, athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.

The current FIDE regulations do not take an evidence-based approach based on robust and peer–reviewed research. They blanket ban, at FIDE’s sole discretion, transgender women from any FIDE women’s events, regardless of if that change in gender has been legally made in that players jurisdiction:

If the gender was changed from male to female, the player has no right to participate in official FIDE events for women until a further decision is made by FIDE. Such decision should be based on further analysis and shall be taken by FIDE Council at the earliest possible time, but not longer than within 2 (two) years. There are no restrictions to play in the open section for a person who has changed the gender.

In the past, we have consistently argued that there are no inherent biological differences between men and women in playing chess. We continue to argue that there are no inherent biological differences between men and women in playing chess, and that the rarity of Hou Yifans and Judit Polgars can be explained by other factors. But, this policy by FIDE seems to indicate that they believe transgender women have an inherent advantage over cisgender women.

Likewise the policy potentially causes significant risks or harm to players living in countries unfriendly to trans players:

5.2 FIDE has the right to make an appropriate mark in the player database and/or use other measures to inform organisers that a player is transgender, to prevent them from possible illegitimate enrolment in tournaments.

In many, or even most, countries around the world, it is not safe to be transgender. The Stonewall riots that led to the inception of pride month themselves were a response to such targeted violence, in that case against the gay community by the New York Police Department. FIDE giving itself the right to inform organisers that a player is transgender is not simple communication, but in many cases also places players at risk of such violence, or of other forms of discrimination. FIDE is a member of ASRIF (sports federations recognised by the IOC), yet this directly contradicts the policies of ARSIF, as well as the IOC Basic Universal Principles on Good Governance Within the Olympic Movement, which FIDE recognises and in its Charter and says it follows.

Within FIDE’s rules they state: “FIDE recognizes that this is an evolving issue for chess and that besides technical regulations on transgender regulations further policy may need to be evolved in the future in line with research evidence”. This is a welcome statement which indicates recognition that an evidence-based decision may be made in the future. However, it reverses the framework of the IOC which highlights that in the absence of evidence of a competitive advantage, there must be an assumption of no competitive advantage.

FIDE’s stance deviates significantly from the approaches of many influential national federations that spoke out including the German, French, English and American federations. It also deviates from the International Olympics Committee - despite being an IOC recognised federation.

This blog post in particular is focusing on trans inclusivity, but these issues affect all members of the LGBTQ community. FIDE’s motto is “gens una sumus” or: we are all one family. It is worth reflecting on, this pride month, and to bear in mind that like any family, we have our disagreements and differences in perspective. But, to be a truly inclusive sport, to be a truly caring family, we must make all people welcome, and unconditionally do what we can to understand all of humanity that plays this unique and awesome sport.

Lichess is a charity and entirely free/libre open source software.
All operating costs, development, and content are funded solely by user donations.