Good evening! It’s that time of year again; we’re ready to start sending out pins and we need your help! The Rainbow STEM Alliance has set up this GoFundMe so you can donate directly to them. Donations will go towards funding our logo pins, new pronoun pins, and other goals for their organization. Huge thanks to RSA for everything you do, you guys are the best!
In addition, we need all the promotion we can get, so we’ll be launching a campaign soon featuring stories about how the pins are important to you, a spotlight from RSA themselves, and more! On the note of stories, we want to hear from you! Feel free to share any significant moments you had involving LGBTQ+ of FIRST pins in this Google Form. These will be posted on the blog, so feel free to leave any names in your story blank or use pseudonyms.
Lastly, we would be extremely grateful if you feel safe sharing this fundraiser. Please don’t feel like you have to if it’s unsafe to do so, but we could use the help if you’re willing to shout us out on social media. Just make sure to link the GoFundMe above, we’d really appreciate it!
Huge thanks to everyone involved in making this happen! These pins are a symbol of our organization and values and we’re glad to have this opportunity for another year. We’ll keep you updated as we reach new milestones!
LGBTQ+ of FIRST Staff
The first Pride parade was in 1970, in the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement and following the Stonewall Riots. At the time, the opposition to allowing LGBTQ+ people to coexist with the general population was contentious: many LGBTQ+ people lived in “gay villages” or “gay ghettos,” with little opportunity and significant violence. The Pride parade was a statement that we’re a part of this world too and that we won’t be swept to the side. The well-known chant “We’re here, we’re queer” is a political statement, making it clear that we do not intend to be brushed away into ghettos or to leave behind who we are. There are thousands of us, walking down your streets, our streets, being who we are, and we’re not leaving. Despite the threats and legal assaults, the Gay Liberation Movement pushed through and made its message loud and clear.
Fifty years since the Stonewall Riots, Pride looks a bit different than it originally did. Today, your average Pride parade is a time for celebration and includes city officials, companies, and the general public. There’s certainly a lot to celebrate. Over the last fifty years, dozens of countries have legalized same-sex relationships and begun to treat LGBTQ+ people as they would any other citizen. The road there was not easy and is not over, but Pride is when we look back and show pride in our accomplishments.
It is also to show pride in who we are. Due to things like a general lack of acceptance, the stigma on standing out in this way, and the difficulties homophobia and transphobia has caused people in their lives, it’s easy to be ashamed or embarrassed to be a part of this community. However, it should be even easier to say that it’s a part of who you are and to be proud of it, just as you would for any other aspect of yourself. Going to Pride means seeing thousands of people celebrating what others would shun, making it just a bit easier to say that it’s something you’re proud. For me, going to Pride meant not feeling like the odd one out for the first time. I was free to feel good about myself without feeling the slightest judgment or strangeness, which is really something everyone deserves to feel.
Despite the progress, things aren’t perfect now. Pride parades often are accompanied with protestors denouncing what they consider wrong or immoral. Even worse, Pride isn’t always a safe place to be, especially surrounding the parade. Just this year, we’ve had to deal with Nazis and active shooter scares. That same violence that the 1970s movement protested still exists today, intimidating and harming people simply celebrating who they are.
Whether in 1970 or 2019, the Pride Parade has the same message: we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not leaving. And that’s something to be proud of.
Ah, Pride month is here. I know this because Target and Macy’s both have their displays of requisite rainbow clothing, a garment to wear that says, “look at me! I’m-“ I’m what, exactly? Gay? Queer? Something on a spectrum to be labeled? And why is this month different than other months?
Pride Month, like many things in culture and history, is complicated. Its history is a wonderful mix of defiance, joy, sadness, and most certainly, passion. To me, Pride Month is a celebration of who we are, a reminder of where we’ve been, a protest against injustices, and a joyous hope for a better world to come.
As a celebration, Pride month allows us all to be who we are, in whatever form that takes. My name is Tom, I use he/him pronouns, and I identify as Bi.
A few months ago, I was at a performance of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. One of the men had a service dog, and during the question and answer period a high schooler asked “whose dog was it?” The gentleman shared an answer I will not soon forget. He said that the service dog was a promise to his longtime partner who died from AIDS. He would continue to use his voice to make a difference in this world, fighting for equality and rights. Not that long ago, being gay meant not having the same rights as others, with the very real possibility of being arrested.
Newsweek summarized the complex history of Pride here: https://www.newsweek.com/pride-month-2019-stonewall-50th-anniversary-history-lgbtq-america-history-1440491. Sophia Waterfield writes, “You have to understand that in the 1950s all U.S. states had laws criminalizing same-sex sexual behavior. You could be arrested and even imprisoned for even proposition[ing] someone for sex in public. Lesbians and gay men were routinely fired from their jobs if their boss or coworkers discovered their sexual orientation.
“The laws criminalizing same-sex activity gradually disappeared from state penal codes over the years but the U.S. Supreme Court only called them unconstitutional in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.”
I find it amazing that the current generation of youth are so accepting of others’ sexual and gender identities. Is the world at 100% acceptance? I would be naive to say yes. But it’s far better than even a decade or two ago, which is great progress. Each Pride event is an opportunity to demand acceptance, to demand the same basic rights as any others - human rights. The right to exist, the right to be free in one’s actions, the right to love, the right to body autonomy, the right to dance - every right that is afforded to heterosexual, cisgender people should be applied in the same positive manner to everyone on the gender and sexuality spectrums.
Pride reminds us what the best in all of us can be - welcoming, inclusive, and, well, proud.
I love being a part of this wonderful community of LGBTQ+, but there are times where I feel I don’t belong. I sometimes wonder, “am I ‘gay’ enough to be a part of a conversation?” Because I have done some things and not others, do those things make me less of an LGBTQ+ person? As I look back at the history of Pride, and where we are today, seeing the amazing people who are so welcoming into the LGBTQ+ group, I can answer my own question - if you identify in any way or part of this group, then you are a part of this amazing band of humanity.
So, here I am with this message to you. Pride month is just that - a moment to let yourself be proud. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of where we’ve come as a group. Be proud of where we’re going.
I may even buy something rainbow this year.
Happy Trans Day of Visibility to the FIRST community! The International Transgender Day of Visibility is an annual holiday celebrated around the world on March 31st. The day is dedicated to celebrating transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people and their accomplishments, as well as bringing attention to the struggles these communities are still facing.
Visibility can be a funny thing to navigate as a trans person. Some trans people may not have a choice in being ‘visibly’ trans, some may choose to be more open about being trans, and others consider their trans experience very private. As someone who went through FIRST programs when closeted and feeling as if I might be the only trans person in FIRST, to now, choosing to be selective about who or what communities know I am trans, I can attest to having many choices to make concerning my visibility as a trans individual.
For all my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings, there is no wrong path to take when it comes to your own visibility. You may want to tell everyone you’re trans, or you may be at or want to be at a point where you never tell anyone else. You may also, like many transgender people, be somewhere in the middle, or still at a point where you haven’t told anyone. However you feel most comfortable, most authentic, or are safest is the correct choice. There is nobody who can tell you how much visibility is the correct choice.
If you are a cis ally to trans people, it is important for you to respect trans people’s privacy. If a trans person tells you they are trans or you knew someone before they transitioned, don’t share with others unless you have been instructed otherwise. Even if you get questions directly about whether someone is transgender or ‘a boy or a girl.’ If you’re not sure how they would want you to answer those questions, ask when or if they come out to you or politely in a private format.
Whether you are a trans person looking for community or a cis person looking to be a good ally, realize that being transgender is not something you can always see. There are trans students on FIRST teams all over the world and in all four FIRST programs, there are trans mentors and coaches working with FIRST teams, there are trans volunteers at many FIRST events in many different roles. There are trans family members- parents, siblings, even grandparents- attending FIRST events in the stands. Trans people are in FIRST, are supporting FIRST, and are an important part of the FIRST community, no matter how visible we might be.
For young people coming up through the range of FIRST programs, there are stereotypes about the kinds of people who participate in robotics, including assumptions about everything from race and gender to body type and intellect. It’s visible in how team members interact with each other, in the ways that mentors treat their students, and even in how students are treated by non-participants.
In the same way that blatant acts of homophobia can make LGBTQ+ students feel unwelcome, reinforcing stereotypes about skill and talent has the effect of making STEM feel inaccessible for certain demographics.
This organization was created by a group of students who felt that their needs weren’t being met within the FIRST community. In those first days, many of us rallied around the fact that we felt we were being pushed into certain roles specifically because we were LGBTQ+. We were taken less seriously than our straight/cis counterparts because of misconceptions our fellow students and mentors had about us. We were passed over for opportunities or treated differently by those around us.
These issues were specifically relevant for LGBTQ+ men and trans individuals. It’s important to note that these experiences are similar to the experiences of women in STEM, regardless of sexual orientation. It boils down to the perception of the role masculinity plays in the STEM community. Despite continuing efforts to make STEM more accessible, it is still a predominantly male field. Many stereotypes about LGBTQ+ men and trans individuals target their failure to achieve society’s expectations of masculinity. This failure is translated into internalized biases about their skills and talents.
In action, it’s the assumption that an LGBTQ+ person can’t perform certain tasks as well as a straight/cisgender person, so they should be delegated to different things. Often, they’re moved away from things like mechanical and fabrication, the traditionally “masculine” roles on a team, because of the belief that they won’t be interested or won’t do as well.
Limitations are placed on what students can accomplish by assuming what they’ll be interested in or skilled at based on sexuality or gender identity. By categorizing or treating students differently based on these factors, access to opportunities is cut off.
When I joined a FIRST team, I was almost immediately funneled into the business aspects of the team. My desire to learn how to design and fabricate was slowly stifled, because I was assigned busy work while my straight male teammates learned important skills. Alternatively, I was given every opportunity to take initiative within awards and documentation, a section of the team my mentors thought I’d do better in. Eventually, I gave up trying to be actively involved in the mechanical elements, because I felt like I was ramming my head against a wall. Instead, I poured my time and energy into the things that my teammates and mentors let me do without any opposition.
This type of environment deters LGBTQ+ students from being involved in FIRST and pursuing careers in STEM. When spaces feel constrictive or discriminatory, people don’t want to stay. When these students are treated differently or pushed into certain aspects of their teams, the message sent is that they don’t belong.
By reinforcing stereotypes, spaces become increasingly homogenized, stifling diversity and making those who are different feel unwelcome. Students who would have excelled are driven away, because those around them are saying it’s just not for them. In the process, this removes opportunities for great innovation, weakening teams, FIRST programs, and the future of the STEM industry as a whole.
As mentors, teachers, and coaches, the worst thing you can do is assume the strengths of your students based on arbitrary factors. When dealing with a lot of students, it can be difficult to get to know everyone individually and help them discover their strengths and talents, and this type of categorizing may even be completely unintentional. However, activities that gauge interest and allow students to try different things give opportunities for growth and development of new skills. Instead of thinking you know what’s best for them based on stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people, consider the internalized biases that influence those misconceptions and challenge them. This creates a better team environment and sets your students up for success.
Coming out for anyone is hard. Whether you’re coming out about being Gay, Bi, Trans, or anything else on the spectrum of queerness, there is always a little bit of nervousness that you feel. The thought of “Will they accept me?” or “Do I really need to tell them this?” or something else might pass through your head. And people get different results. Some people are accepted with open arms, and the feeling of relief washes over them as the friend/family member or whoever they came out to accepts them for who they are. However, a lot of people experience something that isn’t quite approval but isn’t quite rejection either, and others aren’t so lucky, where they experience rejection, being shunned, and are even sometimes kicked out for being who they are. And there are those that because they are fearful of being shunned, rejected, or kicked out must stay hidden, or they choose to not come out because they already know what will happen if they do.
I had an eye-opening experience my Junior year when I went to Worlds. It was my first year as a Representative for LGBTQ+ of FIRST, and I was excited for many reasons, one of the reasons being that I got to hand out the pride pins and ribbons and hopefully meet new people. I remember walking with one of my friends when there was a person who stopped me and asked where I got the pin and the ribbon I was wearing. I explained to them that I was a Representative of LGBTQ+ of FIRST, that I was handing them out, and that they could have one if they wanted it. They told me that while they did want one, they would have to decline my offer, because their team would make fun of them, that they weren’t out to their team, and it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to have that. But I still gave them a pride pin and a “They/Them” ribbon, saying that they could have it in secret and that their team didn’t have to know about it.
That experience changed me, because although I knew some of the hardships that LGBTQ+ people went through, all the hatred and stereotyping and other awful things they had to either endure or be afraid of, I was lucky enough to live in a community where I didn’t experience a lot of those things. And while I and a lot of others were lucky, there are others, like that person I met, who don’t have the luxury of being able to be open about who they are. There are people who live in communities that aren’t as open-minded, and they have to deal with things that people in more open-minded communities don’t have to deal with. And to everyone who has to deal with that, who has to stay in the closet or deal with rude, stereotyping, or even hateful comments, there will always be someone out there who likes you and accepts you for who you are. In some cases those people might be a friend or a family member, but in other cases they might be someone who lives far away from you or someone that you haven’t met yet. However dire your situation might seem, however small you may feel, and however many people don’t accept your queer identity, there will always be people out there that will welcome you for who you are and will love you because of that queer identity. So for anyone who has to deal with the stereotyping and the hateful comments, just remember, that for the number of people that dislike you, there are the same if not more people out there that will like you, despite or even because of your queerness.
I have always been different; I just didn’t know why until about two years ago. I started to discover myself through robotics and the friends I had at the time. Once I found out that I was a lesbian, I felt a sense of clarity. With this clarity, however, came the question that comes to every person who is LGBTQ+: “Should I come out?” This question comes with a lot of sub-questions. “Who all should I come out to?” “When should I come out?” “How should I come out?” There are an infinite number of answers to these questions, but your answers will have an impact on yourself and the people around you.
The first people I came out to were some of my closest friends. They had already come out themselves, so I knew that they would be accepting. Their positive reaction gave me the confidence to continue coming out to those closest to me. I even found that some of my friends already suspected that I was gay.
By this point, I had gained the confidence to come out to the most important people in my life: my parents. The overall positive reactions I had gotten from people thus far had helped me to gain courage in order to make this huge jump. Since my friends had already suspected I was a lesbian, I had just assumed my parents suspected it too. I came out to my mom after a robotics meeting. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best time to do so, because she was already in bed and super tired. Long story short, she was very confused. Judging by her reaction, she had no idea whatsoever, and I had caught her completely off guard. Other than this, however, nothing negative had really come out of the situation, so I counted it as a success.
I had plans to come out to my dad the next day. He had been working late the day I came out to my mom, so I figured I’d tell him after school. When I got home, my mother immediately pulled me aside to talk about my sexuality, which is understandable. After only a few minutes, I realized that she had told my dad without my permission. While it wasn’t really a big deal in my situation, this action could have dire consequences for other people. I quickly realized that my mom didn’t know that she wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I told her this, but it didn’t seem to stick with her because she continued to out me to people, some of which were not accepting at all.
The important takeaway from this situation is to make sure that you clarify to people you come out to that they shouldn’t out you to other people. Unless you give them explicit permission, no one should out you. If you find that someone has been outing you, make sure that they understand why what they’re doing is wrong. Explain to them that coming out to someone can be such a fragile process. It is a very personal journey, and if they truly want to accept you then they should respect that fact. Luckily, my mom stopped outing me to people after I explained this to her in more depth.
When coming out to people, it is important to explain everything, even if you think it is basic knowledge. Taking your time to fully explain things can help to prevent situations like mine. Even if you do this, however, not everyone will be accepting. The important thing is to remember this, and be prepared for it. Personally, there have been people in my life who were not accepting, and I’ve had to drift apart from them. Even though this made me sad, I am overall better off. Surrounding yourself with negative people can lower your self confidence and make you feel bad for being who you are. If you surround yourself with accepting people though, you will have a more positive mindset and healthier relationships that will lead you to accepting yourself.
Today we would like to invite our friends at the Rainbow STEM Alliance for a guest blog post!
Here’s what RSA has to say:
Thank you to the LGBTQ+ of FIRST student group for allowing us to have a guest blog post this week! First off, a bit about The Rainbow STEM Alliance. The mission of The Rainbow STEM Alliance, Inc. shall be to promote acceptance and inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, etc. youth within the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics educational fields. The Rainbow STEM Alliance (RSA) was founded by Jon Kentfield, Brian Boehler and Tom Wexler. These three individuals are alumni and volunteers of FIRST , an organization that plans and hosts robotics competitions for young people. They saw through the students involved that there is a need to help and support LGBTQ+ youth competing on teams. RSA’s initial focus will be to support LGBTQ+ youth in the FIRST Progression of Programs, with goals to expand to other STEM Education programs in the near future. The RSA is running a Go Fund Me as a means to get funding for LGBTQ+ of FIRST lapel pins (something co-founder Jon Kentfield has previously done in the past), as well as pronoun ribbons, etc. We look to have funding complete by January 5th, 2019.
If you would like to support this project, please visit our Go Fund Me at:
We are also set up on AmazonSmile! You can donate to us just by buying things on Amazon, but starting at the smile.amazon.com address! To sign up, go to smile.amazon.com and choose The Rainbow Stem Alliance Inc. as your favorite charity. The best part is, you can start an order in your amazon app, and finish it on smile.amazon.com
A bit more about the founders:
Jon Kentfield, President of The Rainbow STEM Alliance, has been a participant in FIRST since 2000 as a student on a FIRST LEGO League team, and went on to be a part of FIRST Robotics Competition Team 173, as well as mentor their FIRST initiatives through, at the time, the FIRST Vex Challenge, and FIRST LEGO League. He has gone on to volunteer for the different FIRST programs in some capacity since 2003, and currently works for a Crown Supplier to the FIRST Robotics Competition. He has seen first hand what it means to students to have this resource, and continues to promote LGBTQ+ of FIRST at every event possible, usually by wearing a lapel pin, and attending the LGBTQ+ of FIRST meet ups whenever possible.
Tom Wexler serves as the Treasurer of RSA. He started as a student in 2000 on a FIRST Robotics Competition team, and began volunteering in 2003. As a volunteer, Tom has served as a former Senior Volunteer Coordinator for FIRST Mid-Atlantic and a current MC in FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge. He has also mentored FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition Teams in the greater Philadelphia area. Tom currently works in the Technology Department for a suburban K-12 public school district. He sees how important representation and equity are for LGBTQ+ students within STEM competitions, and hopes that this new organization can have a meaningful impact on students across the globe.
Brian Boehler is the Secretary of The Rainbow STEM Alliance. He has been a part of FIRST since 1999 when he joined a FIRST LEGO League team. Since then, he has helped to mentor and coach various teams. In 2007, he began judging and volunteering at events and in 2011, became the Robotics Director for an education-based non-profit. Now, he runs events for all 4 levels of FIRST Programs within the Northern Indiana area.
For more information about The Rainbow STEM Alliance, please visit our website and social media:
Competition season for FIRST® LEGO® League and FIRST® Tech Challenge is starting to move into full swing, and with competitions come volunteers. The volunteer process is pretty straightforward for many of us, and there are lots of resources about how to sign up on firstinspires.org. However, trans and nonbinary folks can find themselves questioning how to fill out forms that ask for name and gender.
I contacted FIRST® staff to ask about how the system worked in regards to name and gender and how to fill things out to ensure that background checks go through and volunteers are as a comfortable as possible. Be aware that some things may change and that this is primarily applicable to volunteers over 18. If you are still a minor, Youth Protection Program screenings will be unnecessary and you should be able to register using any name you want- just make sure your background check runs through accurately if you volunteer after turning 18. If you’re over 18, you’ll need to follow the guidelines below.
When you initially go to register for an account, you will need to fill out your correct date of birth and your legal first and last name. This information is used for background screening, so it’s important that it matches legal documents.
However, once you have your account set up and are able to log in, you will see an option to edit your information on your dashboard. Here you can put in your actual name, or a nickname. This field should be the name which is printed on name badges and used in correspondence- FIRST® staff and volunteer coordinators should be the only ones who view the legal name, and they should be respectful of using your preferred name.
Further down on the information page, you should also see a ‘demographic’ information field, with a field for gender. Fill this out however you’d like (there’s a non binary option), or leave it as ‘not specified.’ This information is not used in background checks, just to inform FIRST about the demographics of their volunteers and participants.
If you have any more questions about filling out or updating your profile, or about volunteering in general, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out to your local partners and directors about events in your area. If you have questions or concerns about a specific event, don’t be hesitant to reach out the volunteer coordinator- part of their job is making sure the volunteer experience is a good one, and they should be able to help you out.
FIRST® does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, genetic information, disability, age, religion/creed, and military/veteran status in its programs and activities. If you have inquiries about the non-discrimination policy, or concerns about how you or other participants in FIRST® programs (students or volunteers) are being treated at events, you can contact Lee Doucette (email@example.com) for support or assistance.
We gave a presentation at FIRST World Championships in Detroit! Thank you so much to FIRST for allowing us to do this. You can watch the presentation on the Official FIRST YouTube channel. https://youtu.be/NDnxkNMJ2X8
About LGBTQ+ of FIRST
LGBTQ+ of FIRST is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ participants in FIRST Robotics. LGBTQ+ of FIRST was started to spread visibility of the LGBTQ+ community within FIRST and help teams become safe spaces for their members.