Tessa B. | Senior| Team: 1339 | Female | MtF | Lesbian | 2017 – Present
Why did you join LGBTQ+ of FIRST?
I joined because I wanted to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community in FIRST and give back to the community that has given so much to me.
What are your goals for the future?
My biggest over-arching goal is to get a degree in computer science and/or aerospace engineering and get a job at SpaceX, Tesla, or some other technology company.
Recommend a book, movie, album, podcast, etc. to us.
Digital Fortress by Dan Brown is one of my favorite books of all time.
Alex N. | Alumni| Team: 2791 | Male | Pansexual| 2017 – Present
How did you get involved in FIRST?
I was nine when my mom brought me to the NYC Regional for the first time; her friend was volunteering that year. Robots sped around a circular track, tossing balls the size of me – the game was FIRST Overdrive. Donning goggles for the first time, I entered the pits and marveled at the robots, but what caught my eye were the people building them – kids, not too much older than myself. From that moment on, I knew this was what I wanted. Stepping out of the pits, a blur of denim and a Segway sped past me. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I’d just met Dean Kamen. Fast forwards eight years later, to 2016, and I’ve high-fived Mr. Kamen’s mother without realizing it at the South Florida Regional. (Long story short, there was a mosh pit turned conga line involved.)
What is your favorite experience with LGBTQ+ of FIRST?
It’s a small world. It really is.
The most important moment, to me, was when I joined the Discord server and realized that there were people that I’d met in person at competitions years ago; the community was bigger than I could’ve ever hoped.
Even today, as an alumnus, I meet folks who’d been involved in FIRST and the fact that we can pick up and talk about our experiences like old friends floors me every time.
What is one cool thing you’ve learned lately?
Blue’s a rare color in nature. There’s really not any truly blue fruits (come on, blueberries are purple at best) and blue flowers are not as common as, let’s say, red flowers.
I mean, aside from the fact that blue’s not a great color for camouflage because it’s so rare, that is. Chemically, blue is a hard pigment to produce and few creatures do it. The ones that do appear blue seem iridescent (think of the blue on many birds) and it’s because they don’t do it chemically, they do it physically. Their feathers/scales/tissues are structured (many of these structures look like little combs) at the microscopic level to diffract light in such a way that all the other colors experience destructive interference and thus, cancel out.
Final fun fact: I learned about this while my hair was dyed blue.
Zeph L. | Alumni | Gay | 2017 – Present
Why did you join LGBTQ+ of FIRST?
I was already an adult volunteer when I found out about LGBTQ+ of FIRST, but I thought it was a really cool resource with a lot of potential to help FIRST students struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. I know it would have been helpful for me as a student.
What are you most looking forward to this competition season?
I’m really looking forward to being a referee at the FIRST Tech Challenge South Super Regional- I’ve really enjoyed seeing the different FTC designs this season and I look forward to seeing many more.
What is one cool thing you’ve learned lately?
I’ve been doing a lot of research on frogs, and I now know a lot about frog teeth. Most frog species have teeth on their upper jaws, but one species has sharp teeth on both the upper and lower jaws.
Katie J. | Junior | Team: 3595 (FTC) | PNW | Gay | 2017 – Present
What do you do on your team?
I’m the team captain of FTC 3595. I’m involved with every aspect of the team, from building and programming to outreach and documentation.
Why did you join LGBTQ+ of FIRST?
I’d admired the organization from afar ever since it began. I’m truly passionate about LGBTQ+ of FIRST’s mission, and when I saw that staff applications were open I was beyond excited by the possibility of getting involved and giving back to the organization.
What are you most looking forward to this competition season?
Because I’m in FTC, the competition season started a few months ago for me. My favorite thing so far has been meeting all of the new teams and volunteers at events — I moved from Alaska to Virginia over the summer, so this season I’m seeing a completely different group of people, and it’s been very fun to get to know everyone!
I have been involved with FIRST for ten years now. My first brush with it was at a summer camp held by an FIRST LEGO League team – my mother had to make me go, and I’m glad she did. After ‘aging out’ of FLL, I joined a FIRST Tech Challenge team and continued with the FTC program until I graduated, as well as staying involved as an active volunteer with FLL. FIRST has changed my life, given me experiences I would have never had the opportunity for otherwise, and given me an amazing community that I’m proud to be a part of.
My last couple years in high school I began to struggle with my gender identity. I can’t say that that was the beginning of my questioning, but that’s when I really began to have to accept things about myself and figure out words to put to my experiences. As I slowly started to come to terms with being transgender, I also slowly began to feel more alienated in a lot of spaces . I wrestled with the idea of ostracised if I came out, and of losing communities that meant a lot to me- namely the FIRST community.
I didn’t really feel as if I felt a part of anything outside of FIRST. By the time I was ready to come out, I had graduated high school and was promoted to a key volunteer role in the same state I grew up in, and also served at the Super Regional and World Championship levels. And I was terrified to tell anyone the truth. I was part of enough circles and relatively tight communities that I knew I would be facing a lot of scrutiny, and the idea of being harshly judged in places that meant so much to me was a heavy prospect. When I finally came out to my parents, I told them that they could tell anyone else they wanted, as long as they weren’t people in FIRST circles. It was a very difficult time in my life.
Looking back now, I wish I had come out sooner, because the support and acceptance I have found in my FIRST community has been more than I ever expected. Reactions and adjustments from mentors and fellow volunteers have varied, but overall the positive reception has been wonderful. FIRST headquarters have worked with me to make sure my volunteer registration account was correct, and has been very thoughtful with housing accommodations for me as a transgender individual as I took a larger role in the FIRST volunteer world. One reason that I feel as if what LGBTQ+ of FIRST is doing is so important is because I know that coming out would have been easier if I had seen other transgender people- or even gay, lesbian or bisexual people- being visibly accepted in FIRST spaces and known that I had one less thing to fear. I now know many, and I am thankful for that.
FIRST as an organization encourages diversity and acceptance, and I am glad that in the last few years a push has been made to make sure that the LGBT community is included in that. Being an LGBT adolescent is difficult, and it is my sincere hope that the FIRST community is a haven for more of these young people than it is an additional stressor. For anyone who is wrestling with similar circumstances as I did, I hope you are able to make that step soon. Whether you are a student, a volunteer or a mentor, there are people behind you and people next to you who want you to be able to live your most genuine life.
This was written by a contributor to LGBTQ+ of FIRST who would prefer not to be named.
There’s lots of discussion surrounding the use of labels, especially in the aro and ace communities. This is my experience and opinion on how they are best applied. I use the split attraction model, which divides attraction into sexual and romantic.
My first step on the road to realizing I’m aro/ace (aromantic/asexual) was accepting my asexuality, although I still thought I was heteroromantic. This immediately required an acceptance of the split attraction model that I still believe in. Later on, I started to reconsider my “crushes” and found that they had different circumstances than most people’s. This led me to look further into the various descriptors of romantic attraction. While I didn’t try each of these, the list includes things like fray-, akoi-, quoi-, demi-, and autochoris-. The list goes on and on.
Some might call these silly, splitting hairs, or an attempt to be a special snowflake. I ended up using aro/ace, a more accepted one. But I don’t think I would’ve gotten there as soon without looking into these labels. They helped me see that there’s more ways to experience attraction than whatever your friends feel or what the media shows you.
Labels in general are descriptions of an experience, not the other way around. Each person’s experiences are unique and likely aren’t shared exactly by anyone else. In my opinion this means labels are only useful to figure out what you are experiencing if they lead you to find resources. They are not rules on how you are supposed to feel. For example, I’ve tried dating since figuring out my current set of labels because I wanted to be close to someone, who happened to have a crush on me. It didn’t work out because of my orientation, but it was definitely worth the try, and I would have missed out on it if I had stuck to my labels. However, labels are very helpful to find a network. Sometimes you need support, advice, or just a person to talk to who understands what you mean. It’s a lot easier to say the closest approximation to what you feel rather than describing it every time.
When it comes to interactions, labels should only be used to self-describe. It’s good to understand yourself, but nobody else should try to dictate how you identify yourself. They only need to know how you feel about them. To the aforementioned person, I told her I’m aro/ace, but when we talked about our relationship, I never used a label. It’s important to be honest and leave nothing out when doing this, but it leads to better relationships than simply using someone else’s experiences to describe yourself.
Whatever labels you choose to use, remember that who you are is more important than what you are. You love who you love how you love, and how you describe that is entirely up to you.
– Cate S.
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.
I didn’t really consider the idea that I wasn’t straight until 8th grade. By then, I had already had two “crushes.” How a crush feels is never explained to anyone because supposedly everybody feels one by the end of middle school. That makes it pretty easy to misconstrue. I just knew that I had a really good friend, who was a girl, and I really enjoyed being around her. Sounded spot-on.
One night my sister, cousins and I were playing truth or dare. A lot of the truth topics were about crushes and stuff, and my two (male) cousins started talking about what it feels like when they see a hot girl. I said that I had no such experience. They seemed to think I was some sort of a saint, but my sister asked if that meant I was asexual. I laughed about it but looked it up that night. A lot of the stuff was pretty relatable. There were loads of stories about people who had experiences like me but didn’t hear about asexuality until they were much older. I’m lucky I figured that part out so early.
Of course then I thought that would be the end of it – I’m ace, but I had crushes on girls. Heteroromantic. Easy. But then I started digging into the ace community on tumblr. They had all sorts of other labels for every type of attraction. I thought a bit about a few of them, but didn’t really consider them too seriously until much later. Still the idea that I wasn’t a “completely straight ace” lingered.
Fast forward to the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. I had identified as a heteroromantic asexual for about a year and a half, and told around five close friends. I had had three “crushes,” all on girls. Then I started thinking about my friendship with another guy. How I felt about him was stronger than how I felt about any of those three girls. For a moment I wondered if I was attracted to men, but I asked myself what I actually would want in a relationship. The list included things like sharing cool stuff in life, being able to rely on them, having fun with them, and being able to be chill with them. That sounded an awful lot like friendship. I summed up my ideal relationship as “forever roommates” and realized that applied to several of my friends. None of them were what crushes were supposed to be.
I looked up “what does it feel like to be aromantic” and found a list of ~50 things. I personally related to over 40 of them, and one of them used the wording “forever roommates.” It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Looking back, it seems pretty obvious, but that’s compulsory straightness for you.
The year since then has included no crushes (now that I understand them) but one attempt to date. While it was fun, it showed me that even someone who is perfect for me isn’t going to change the fact of who I am. I understand that sexuality can be fluid, but for the moment I’m proud to be an aro/ace.
– Cate S.
The notion of “coming out” is one that can be intimidating to a lot of people. Formally telling the people in your life about your sexuality seems a daunting task. This, among other reasons, is why I personally choose to be extremely open about my sexuality, with people in my regular life and on my robotics team. I openly discuss/mention my sexuality with people in my life and on my team, but I don’t make a point of specifically coming out. I am unapologetically bisexual.
But it wasn’t always that way. In order to live this way, being able to feel comfortable and secure is absolutely essential. When everyone around you knows that you’re bi (or any other orientation/identity), you will face some judgement and questions. You cannot let those things put doubt in your mind, you know who you are better than anyone else does. Reaching this point of stability in your identity can take a long time. For me it took several months, but for some people it could take years. That is okay. Once you reach this point, you may make the choice to be extremely open with your identity, or you may wish to be more private or reserved. The decision of how open to be with your sexuality/identity is entirely yours. But I’d like to share some pros and cons of being as open as I am and how they affected my decision to be who I am so publicly.
How I Made My Decision
Here I listed a few of the major pros and cons I considered when I decided I wanted to be extremely open. These can differ from person to person and their impact and importance can vary as well.Deciding whether you want to be more reserved or extremely open with your sexuality/identity is entirely up to you. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and be sure of who you are. You also have to evaluate the safety of being open about your sexuality in your current situation. It also has to be something you want, it simply isn’t for anyone. But for me, it has worked out very well and made me quite happy. Hopefully you find what’s comfortable for you and it makes you happy.
Not so long ago, and for the first time, I watched the classic documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, about the first openly gay individual in California elected to public office.
Harvey was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on November 8, 1977. On November 27, 1978, at San Francisco City Hall, along with George Moscone, the Mayor of San Francisco, Harvey Milk was assassinated. The killer, Dan White, a former colleague of Harvey’s on the Board of Supervisors who had resigned his post just weeks before, was tried for capital murder. This could have earned him the death penalty. Instead, he was found guilty of manslaughter and served 5 years of a 7-year sentence before being paroled. Approximately 1 year and 10 months after his parole, Dan White committed suicide.
What struck me about this film was not just the incredible story and the apparent injustice in the sentencing of Dan White, but the representation of what our culture was like at the time. California Proposition 6, also known as ‘The Briggs Initiative’ after its sponsor, John Briggs, was on the ballot in the November 1978 election. The language of the proposition, though convoluted, would have essentially prohibited the hiring of, and required the firing of, public school teachers for “public homosexual conduct”, a term defined so broadly that I think it would be hard for any homosexual, or even any what today might be called heterosexual ally, to not fall under the law’s purview.
Here’s the thing, for me: this proposition, clearly discriminatory and unjust by today’s standards, nearly passed. In September of 1978, only two months before voting, polling showed it ahead. It was only through the extraordinary and determined efforts of Harvey Milk and a broad coalition of others opposed to the proposition, including then-Governor of California Ronald Regan, that it went down in defeat, with 58% voting against.
I’ll admit that at least until I watched this extraordinary documentary, I was nearly wholly ignorant of the history of the LGBTQ+ movement. When I realized events such as this happened in my lifetime – I was 13 when the assassinations occurred – my eyes were opened just a bit more.
If you haven’t seen The Times of Harvey Milk, even if you already know the story, I believe it’s worth a watch, and worth sharing your thoughts over. It’s powerful filmmaking in the service of an important part of history, history not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all.
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.