So, first, an introduction. My name’s Tom – I’m an FRC alum of team 487, the Robo Spartans out of Erdenheim, PA. The team hasn’t existed in that form in many years.
I’m Bi, and use he/him pronouns. I currently mentor FTC team 9618, the CyberSpartans out of the same town. I’m 31, and started as a FIRST student in 2000. I’ve served in many roles – Volunteer Coordinator, Referee, Judge, and most recently I’ve had the honor of serving as one of the Masters of Ceremony at the St. Louis World Championship for FIRST Tech Challenge. This is my weird, fabulous story of the crossroads of FIRST and LGBT. When I was in high school, I came out to one person, and one person only. I was so scared of myself, of who I’d be, that it wasn’t until after college that I truly accepted my sexuality. In a somewhat cliche passage, I was in a community theater production of RENT, where I came out to my friends. It would still be another few years until I came out to my parents, at the ripe age of 28. I count myself lucky – I live in a very welcoming community, with great parents. But what trapped me most, was myself. The only resolve to that was therapy, and time. One of the things that has kept me involved with FIRST so long is the people, the community. I have long felt that you can truly be yourself at a competition – your weird, quirky, unique self. The self you want to be, but are otherwise afraid to embrace outside the sanctity of a Robotics event. We embrace safety as part of our culture. Who is to say that the safety stops at mechanical tools and protective eyewear? Many fraternal societies operate on the principle of having a sacred, shared space where everyone is safe to reveal their secrets. Our shared space just has a shorter perimeter.
Why do I feel so passionate about this movement? For one, anything that gives students an opportunity to take a leadership position is fantastic. That’s the whole point of this program – learn skills that you can apply to ANYTHING. Secondly, I have seen far too many people think that they are alone, that nobody in this world can feel the way they do, that there is no place for them past high school. I hope that I can serve as a role model to someone – even just one person, to say that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get everything right, or even fully know who you are or what you want to be when you grow up. As long as you’re kind to others, celebrate their strengths, and help them through their weaknesses, then this world we share will be a better place. And it’s okay to be open about who you are in our community. I am – and in most of the things I do in FIRST, it doesn’t matter one but. Which is the greatest feeling in the world.
LGBTQ+ of FIRST Student Survey
Check out our LGBTQ+ of FIRST Student Survey!
We are looking for LGBTQ+ students participating in FIRST to fill out a quick survey to help us better understand our community. We just want to know more about your experience in STEM and in FIRST. The survey is completely anonymous and is a huge help. Please share it with any other members of the LGBTQ+ and FIRST communities!
Applications Now Open!
We are thrilled to be opening applications for LGBTQ+ of FIRST! After an exciting FIRST Steamworks season for everyone, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to many of our seniors and alumni as blog administrators. While we will miss them and everything they do, we are thrilled to keep them as part of our community and expand further into the FIRST community.
This year, I’m proud to announce a restructuring of the initiative LGBTQ+ of FIRST, with three tiers which people can apply for.
The application form is here!
First, we are filling a handful of Student Administrator positions.
Unfortunately, we can only have so many people on our Student Administrative Board. To expand our reach throughout FIRST and in new regions, we’re proud to introduce Student Representatives.
Not a student or LGBTQ+ but you still want to be involved? We’ve got you covered with another new role: Ambassadors!
For anyone not interested in a leadership position, our discord is open to everyone as a Member!
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this initiative over the past year. We are thrilled to be growing and hope to make as much of a positive impact on our community as possible.
-Kiran (2826) and LGBTQ+ of FIRST
FIRST and foremost, coming out is entirely up to you. Coming out doesn’t make you more LGBTQ+. If you are closeted, you are not lying to anyone. You don’t owe the details of your sexuality or gender or sex to anyone.
So, how you do know if you should come out? First, you should make sure coming out is safe for you. Will you be kicked out of home? Will you be in physical or psychological danger? If so, you have to weigh the pros and cons of coming out. Is the joy of finally being free worth the possible harm? If you’re having trouble, try looking at a physical representation of the pros and cons through a t chart. Mine looked a little like this:
If your chart as an equal amount of pros and cons, you can assign numbers for how likely each pro or con is to happen. Pros are positive numbers 1 to 5 and cons are negative numbers -1 to -5. Something like “I wouldn’t feel like I was hiding something” would be (in my situation) a +5 but a “My parents might be mad at me” (in my situation) would be a -4. If you add up your list and end with a net positive, then you should consider coming out. If you end up with a net negative, you should further consider the safety of coming out. Make sure to also take the value of each situation into account. How much do you care about your parents being mad at you? Could you handle the negatives? Even if you end in a net positive, make sure to think about whether or not you could handle the negative outcomes.
Of course, you don’t have to come out to everyone at once, but remember, the more people who know, the more likely the information is to spread. If you aren’t completely out, make sure you are only coming out to trustworthy people who will not “out” you to others.
Finally, no matter if you end with a positive or negative number, make sure you make a plan for the worst case scenario. If you are kicked out, do you have a place to stay? If you are forced into therapy, do you have the help of a reputable psychologist to convince your parents the idea is unsafe? If you would face physical violence, are you prepared to defend yourself? Your personal safety comes FIRST, and neither choice is wrong. Coming out is difficult and potentially dangerous, but it can also lead to so much happiness and joy. The decision is entirely up to you, so stay safe and good luck!
The discussion of politics sometimes feels somewhat like defense being played - a little like the gif above. On my team, politics is an unavoidable and often amusing discussion. Usually, it consists of Ronald Reagan fanboys regaling a time they never experienced and awkward posturing regarding topics such as “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Sometimes, the topics become absurd, such as why the US should have Brazil as a primary ally during World War Three (we shouldn’t).
With the current political atmosphere, politics is as divisive as ever, and coming from team with a lot of political opinions, navigating that can be complicated. The obvious answer is: avoid it! However, what’s the fun in that? Sometimes, talking politics (and even religion) can be an entertaining use of time as the build season hours get longer and longer.
Firstly, be civil. Whether or not there’s consensus on a subject isn’t an excuse to lose your temper or your humanity. While politics may be interesting to talk about, it’s not an excuse to throw punches.
Additionally, if you have another team member purposely being antagonistic, don’t take the bait. There’s no reason to take the low road. If you think the discussion could lead into a fight, don’t begin the discussion.
Admit when you’re wrong! This one goes whether or not you’re talking about politics, especially when regarding misinformation. You can definitely learn something new when talking to someone about issues that really matter to them, and make sure you keep phrases like, “I hadn’t thought of it like that,” in your arsenal. There’s always more to learn!
Be compassionate! Many people are personally affected by political issues which leads to differing views on the subject. Everyone has reasons for why they believe the things they do. Of course, if someone is diminishing your humanity, there’s no reason for this, but make sure to have empathy when discussing something controversial.
Know when to walk away! Whether it’s just not the right time for politics in the shop or you can’t personally handle it - that’s OK! After all, there is a robot to build!
Being cramped together with your team isn’t always a fun experience, but take the opportunity to learn from others and make sure that they learn from you too.
-Kiran L. 2826
LGBTQ+ Media Recommendations
Hey everyone! As we all know, the holiday season is rapidly approaching, and with it comes the tradition of giving gifts to those you care about. If you’re looking for a gift for a special LGBTQ+ person (or ally) in your life, check out these books, movies, and other media!
These are just a few of my favorites! Representation in books and movies is such a significant part of discovering oneself and realizing that what you are feeling is a normal thing to feel. Under the read more are some more book lists for you to check out if you’re looking for new reading material or a gift for someone important in your life.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Aryn T. 4982
Anon – Words of Encouragement
While things may look grim in the wake of this week’s election, please remember that you are loved. There are people advocating for you and protecting you everywhere in FIRST and you are loved.
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.