Happy Pride Month! We hope you’ve all found ways to celebrate safely during COVID. If you’d like to celebrate with us, we’ve got big plans this month! Here are some ways you can get hyped with us!
LGBTQ+ of FIRST
Good Afternoon! The LGBTQ+ of FIRST would like to issue the following update as to the current state and the future of our organization.
It is with no surprise that with the current COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently the cancellation of all FIRST Robotics events that our organization is currently stagnant. With no competition outreach, pin distribution, partner team held events, official meetups, or world championship conferences, it has been quite difficult to increase the scope of our organization. However, this is no excuse for the radio silence and missed opportunities like for example, pride month social media events and blog posts done in previous years, an official acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter protests across the world, and mental health advice to deal with the current pandemic. It is also with poor timing that this time period normally marks the change of management of our organization’s Administrators, of which all but one have retired.
It would be a failure of our duties to hand off the organization we love in its current state to the next round of Admins, so we would like to take this time to make some long overdue changes to our structure, cement some previously relaxed policies, and be more transparent on certain issues. Most of these are minute formalities of previously in place structures, but there are some changes that we would like to be transparent about.
I. Updated Partner Team Tiers
Our current partner team system is centered around material distribution and hosting outreach events. The following is an excerpt from our old Partner Team Guidelines:
The following is what we would like to see become our new Partner Team tier structure:
The most notable changes are the substitution of the silver tier’s “assisting with an event” requirement for the option of either producing materials or hosting a meetup and the specification for gold tier events to original presentations or events. There are a few reasons for these changes:
II. Moderator Role
The LGBTQ+ of FIRST Discord has always been a large part of the organization, but it always has and always will be just one of our many community outreach programs. The Admin team’s responsibilities are the maintenance of the organization and the upkeep of our brand, but the Discord server moderation has always been lumped in with that as well. The organization has always been tied to Discord, so this is understandable, but the Admin role should be about more than just being a Discord mod.
There has also recently been a lot of tension regarding the trustworthiness of Staff and their ability to understand the Discord server population. Because of these reasons, the Admins have created a new Moderator staff role solely devoted to the upkeep of the Discord server. We are thinking a group of 8-10 individuals who are online frequently, are active members of the server, know the community well, and know how to keep things civil.
Moderators will act much like the Admins do in the server, but their jurisdiction ends at server moderation decisions and civil upkeep. Representatives and Ambassadors may also hold the title of Moderator, but Moderators themselves will not have jurisdiction over organization decisions. We’ve noticed server members often fluctuate in frequency of activity (which is not a bad thing!), so the Admins will enforce the activity requirement for Moderators more strictly. Because of this, Moderators may come and go, but because of their status as active members of the community, the idea is that the current Moderators will always be trusted individuals who can resolve server conflicts. Admins will continue to be the main governing body of the LGBTQ+ of FIRST and still have moderating powers.
Because of this new dedicated Mod role, Representatives will no longer be expected to moderate the server, but they should still report misconduct if they see it, just as any other server member should. Ambassadors were never expected to moderate, but the same will go for them; it is up to the Moderators and Admins to make disciplinary response decisions.
If you are interested in applying for the Moderator position, you may do so here.
III. Updated Staff Structure
The role of Administrators will mainly stay the same in that they will still be the main governing body of the LGBTQ+ of FIRST. There will, however, be stricter guidelines on Admin participation and clearer communication with inactive Administrators. Administrators will still be responsible for actively participating in organization projects and contributing to the betterment of the organization.
The role of Representative will also see stricter guidelines on participation, but not change much from its original purpose. An already existing responsibility of Representatives is active engagement in organization projects, however this requirement has not been enforced for some time. We would like to make the Representative role more distinguished from the Ambassador role, so we will be requiring a higher level of participation. These are outlined in the Representative Application as well as the LGBTQ+ of FIRST Handbook.
In addition, Representatives were recently informally asked to help with moderation, but with the addition of the new Moderator role, this is not necessary, and in fact is discouraged. If Representatives would like to see change with regards to server moderation strategies, they are encouraged to apply as Moderator here.
Ambassadors will still be the main representative body of the LGBTQ+ of FIRST at competitions and events. As for Discord moderation, we appreciate the initiative for Ambassadors to moderate. However, because the Moderator and Admin positions are more heavily vetted, we ask that Ambassadors report conflicts in the server to Moderators and Admins directly. They are also encouraged to apply as Moderator, if they would like to contribute this way.
Similarly to our update of the Partner Team Guidelines, we acknowledge that everybody may not agree with these changes and did not sign up for some of these responsibilities, so we will offer similar opportunities to provide feedback and change staff positions, if needed.
IV. Updated Representative Application Cycle
With the increased responsibilities of Representatives and a heavier focus on contributing to organization projects, we would like to provide more of an opportunity for those interested to contribute to the organization to do so. In the past, the Representative application window has coincided with the Admin application window. Starting now, we will be opening up Representative applications year round. If you are interested in applying, you can do so here.
V. Black Lives Matter Protests and Healthy Server Discussion
The following goes for all political discussion in the Discord server, but is most recently applicable to the Black Lives Matter protests and the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. It is with recent crackdowns on political discussion in our Discord server that we feel the need to rethink the way we handle moderating political discussion.
Political discussion is notoriously difficult to moderate on Discord servers, especially with our small Admin team, but given that we will be welcoming new Moderators to the staff team, it is only right we allow more political discussion in our server. Our plan is to create a politics channel to provide a safe, quarantined environment for people to express their opinions while maintaining the healthy atmosphere of the rest of the server. The politics channel is only open Fridays from 8PM - 1AM and Sundays 12PM - 4PM and has a 60 second slowmode. Admins and Moderators will be responsible for moderating these discussions
The African American community and other minority communities have been silenced in America through systemic racism and oppression and with the mission our organization has and the mission of FIRST, it is not right to suppress discussion of these topics. It is our duty to provide a safe space for people of all backgrounds to gather and part of that includes providing the means to acknowledge the prejudices that these communities face. We would like to take this moment to apologize for any suppression of political discussion. Your voices deserve to be heard and we will stand by you in these difficult times.
VI. LGBTQ+ of FIRST Handbook
The goal of the LGBTQ+ of FIRST Handbook is to outline the guidelines, procedures, and timelines for this organization. It is our hope that this structure will increase efficiency and ensure the passing down of knowledge between Admin teams. It also includes a much needed project timeline and proposed deadlines for certain tasks and milestones. All of the changes to the organization in this email are reflected in the Handbook, but there may be some minute additions in the Handbook we forgot to mention here. Please let us know if this is the case and we can address the issue.
LGBTQ+ of FIRST Handbook
It is our hope that with these changes come improved efficiency, better allocation of resources, and better communication, but we understand if you may not agree with some of these changes. Please feel free to email us at email@example.com with any feedback on these updates. We look forward to the next FIRST season and we hope you all stay safe during these unprecedented times.
Hello everyone! First of all, happy Transgender Day of Visibility! I have not been a member of LGBTQ+ of FIRST for very long, but we are a very fun and accepting community. Today, being trans day of visibility, I and people everywhere are coming out and being visible. This day is wonderful because we are raising awareness and showing that there are strong, confident, and wonderful trans people all over the world in every skill and profession. I am so proud of every single one of you, closeted or out, questioning or positive, whoever you are. I am proud of you! You are strong! I would like to give a loud proud shoutout to all of the wonderful, smart transgender people of FIRST! You are all amazing people, you are very smart, and you are what makes FIRST, FIRST!
Ambassador, LGBTQ+ of FIRST
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.
About LGBTQ+ of FIRST
LGBTQ+ of FIRST is a student run organization that advocates awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ students, mentors, and volunteers of FIRST Robotics. LGBTQ+ of FIRST reaches out to over 1000 members across the FIRST regions and fronts multiple outreach endeavors.