Last week was trans awareness week, a week dedicated to bringing awareness to transgender people internationally and the struggles they face. The final day (November 20th) was trans remembrance day, a day dedicated to remembering victims of transphobic violence. Transgender awareness week was created in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in honor of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in 1998. Ever since then we take the day of November 20th to mourn those lost to violence and hate crimes due to nothing more than living their truest lives.
Trans awareness week holds many different values to different members of the community. For many, this is a day of celebration, a week for gender-nonconforming people from around the world to celebrate their identity and all that has been accomplished for the transgender community. For others, it is a time of mourning for friends, family, and community members lost.
For those who celebrate it is shown by parades, parties, and events held by local community members. All around just working to make themselves visible and show that they are proud of who they are. It is also used as a time to educate the public on transgender rights and gender-nonconforming identities. There are programs run across the country to educate on everything from sex ed to advocacy for trans students.
As issues with transgender students especially when it comes to sports arise, the importance of these celebrations and attempts to bring awareness are all that much more important. As young people grow more confident and comfortable with their identities in the newer generations anti-trans hate groups have also grown. These groups work to dispute the validity of transgender identities and cause harm in the community.
Now you may be wondering, what can I, a mentor, a student, a friend, or a teacher do to make transgender students feel safer? Luckily there's a lot you can do! Some important things are making sure your students or friends know you are a safe space and support them. Another thing is to provide gender-neutral bathrooms and spaces for all students. For many students in FIRST, travel rooming is also a concern so it is important to have open honest conversations with your team to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable.
So, it’s trans day of visibility. Obviously, there are a number of dates year-round that celebrate the queer community in some capacity; so many that some wonder why. I’d like to share a story to help people understand.
I was 16 years old, and only recently struggling with my identity. For the first time in a while, I was excited to “know” who I was, and ready to share it with someone. At my counselor’s office after school, I excitedly share the news:
“I figured it out! I’m not a guy!”
My excitement was not matched, as she gave me a look of shock and confusion. I don’t want to make this entirely about myself, so I’ll give the gist. The following weeks of therapy were extremely invasive and uncomfortable, to the point I simply refused to speak at times and leave after 5 minutes. We stopped shortly after as I pretended to be “better”. Much more harm than good was done in that period of time.
My point is that people don’t understand trans people at the level they really should. Trans Day of Visibility is a day meant to promote that understanding. It’s for trans people to speak and have their voices heard.
It’s important to acknowledge that for most trans people, their identity is not a choice. Gender Dysphoria (the condition that many trans people suffer from) is a painful neurological condition where one’s gender does not match their biological sex. It can only really be alleviated by gender affirming actions aesthetically, medically, socially, or in a variety of other ways. Even then, dysphoria is extremely limiting in many aspects of one’s life and never truly goes away. To make matters worse, trans people often face external barriers.
These can manifest as “simpler” issues, such as the inability to find a bathroom they can use or gender affirming clothing that fits their body type. It can also appear as broader issues such as access to affirming care, employment opportunities, name changes, etc. The issues also extend into the abstract when social isolation, dissociation, and the ever-present feelings of not belonging are discussed. In addition, it’s not uncommon to face harassment, threats, or even violence for being trans just about anywhere in the world.
As trans people face a cold and unkind world and likely will for years to come, change is happening. Where you are, it might not be legislative. It might not even be noticeable to most people, but it’s vital to creating a better future. At my most recent competition, my old marketing mentor didn’t know I was going by a new name and pronouns. When she accidentally greeted me with my deadname, my whole team (hailing from an extremely bigoted part of rural Indiana) all stepped in to correct her at once.
You could look at the news and see all the legislation being passed to hurt trans people, but make no mistake, the humanity of most decent people will prevail as it always has throughout history. Looking at all this change, subtle as it may be, it gives me hope. While FIRST has a long way to go, the action they’ve taken and the environment they’ve created gives me hope. Seeing more people feeling ready to come out in spite of everything gives me hope. Not everyone can be visible today. Even within FIRST, many trans people are not able to live as who they truly are for a variety of factors. To them, I wish to say that we’re here, and we’re with you, no matter what team, nation, or culture you come from. It’s apparent in the pins, the pride flags, and representatives now being almost omnipresent at all FIRST events. I would like to thank you for reading this, and wish you a happy Trans Day of Visibility.
- Eva True [Indiana]
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
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.
Passing is the holy grail for many trans people, the almighty goal that they seek through the trials of transitioning. It is defined by the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Southern California as “successfully being perceived as a member of your preferred gender regardless of actual birth sex”, but the concept of passing is accompanied by controversy. It requires trans people to fit into a rigidly structured binary and fulfill gender stereotypes they may not wish to conform to, but it can also improve quality of life and keep them safe under circumstances where not passing would put them at risk.
With both these arguments in mind, is the concept of passing helpful or harmful for the trans community?
With regards to the earlier question, there is no clear answer. The concept of passing will remain controversial, and it is up to the individual whether or not they want to pursue it. Therefore, it’s important to remember that your perspective on passing does not hold true for everyone and that there are very distinct arguments on both sides. Like so many issues, it’s not a matter of black and white. Do what makes you feel the most comfortable, and respect the decisions of the people around you.
Have something to add to the conversation? Need some advice? Leave a comment below or tweet us at @LGBTQ_of_FIRST
During the 2017 build season I came out to my team as transgender. The team was fine with it, extremely supportive even. The mentors, not so much. They didn’t say much about it, or acknowledge it even. I suppose worse could have happened. All was well until time came for an away regional. They were intending to put me in a boys room, and I of course was very very uncomfortable and unhappy about this. Luckily, I have fantastic friends that stood up for me and got them to change their minds about it. They ended up putting me in my own room alone and away from everyone else. This was preferable to a guys room, though I was still pretty unhappy with my situation because I was away from my friends. At this point, however, I was willing to take anything that wasn’t a boys room.
When the time came for competition, they again asked me if I wanted a boys room, it seemed as if they were pushing me towards going in to one. I refused of course, and the mentor who asked me seemed grumpy about it. At that moment I asked if there was absolutely no way I could stay in the girls room(my gender is female), and to this question, his response was :”No, of course not. Out of the question”. I was again upset by this, but I was grateful they didn’t force me into a boys room. What got me really pissed off was that the ‘girls’ room was comprised of one girl, one nonbinary person, and a trans guy. They put a boy in the girls room over me. The guy in question didn’t want to fight them, and was more uncomfortable being in a guys room for understandable reasons, so he just decided to stay in the girls room.
The whole point of this story wasn’t just to share a negative experience, but I would not have gotten any accommodation had it not been for my friends who stood up for me and did what I was too timid to do for myself. Eventually, I was able to stand up for myself, but this was after my friends had supported me. I guess what I am saying is, if your mentors are refusing to yield, don’t back down from them. The only way you can get what you want is by fighting for your rights.
On May 20, 2017, STORM Robotics hosted its first annual FIRST Compass, an event where teams can give or watch presentations about different subjects in robotics. Representing LGBTQ+ of FIRST, Jaye and Sean presented this slide show to help teams in the MAR region and MAR itself learn how to be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ FIRST participants.
Since numerous teams seemed interested, LGBTQ+ of FIRST is sharing this presentation for all FIRSTers, especially those outside the MAR region and those who missed the event.
Every LGBTQ+ students deserves a welcoming and inclusive environment.
I was wondering if LGBTQ+ FIRST has given any thought to Texas passing a bathroom bill, and how that would impact trans FIRST students, especially with South Champs being hosted in Houston, Texas. Is this something that should be protested?
Hey sorry for letting this ask sit for so long, but we had to think and work on this since it’s such a complicated issue. We are contacting FIRST about the issue and asking for support. Although these types of laws affect a lot of people, businesses and organizations can choose whether or not it applies to them. FIRST, in its nondiscrimination policy, directly references gender identity and sexual orientation so we anticipate support.
This is a stressful time of year for all of us. Seniors are applying and hearing back from schools, juniors are planning visits, midterms are around the corner, and it’s also build season. It’s really easy to get carried away with the stress and forget about the outside world. Even in the midst of the FRC build season, we still have to remember the FLL and FTC teams that are building and competing for their competitions. Being a safe space and resource for LGBTQ+ youth in FIRST, we want to include everyone, not just FRC members. Life is really stressful as an LGBTQ+ kid, especially with an extracurricular activity as stressful and time consuming as any FIRST organization.
To all my fellow LGBTQ+ FIRSTers out there, I love you, we love you, and your identity is valid, no matter how young you are. Whatever you feel is what is true of your experience. You may change your labels as you come upon ones that fit you better, and that’s okay. Finding your place in the LGBTQ+ community is confusing, but I promise you, it is worth it. As your classmates mature, the taunting will stop and you’ll feel safer, Even if high school is rough, the world is so much bigger than your small community. The world is big and amazing and full of so many opportunities and support for you. Don’t give up.
To the mentors and teachers, support your LGBTQ+ students, even if they are young. Puberty is a rough time for everyone, but especially for LGBTQ+ kids who are growing into an experience they weren’t prepared for. If a student comes out to you, support them. Lend them a shoulder if they need to cry, and build them up. Without support, almost 60% of LGBTQ+ people will attempt suicide, but if you give your students support, that high rate exponentially decreases.
“Results suggested that a hostile school climate has serious ramifications for LGBT students but institutional supports can play a significant role in making schools safer for these students,” [x].
To everyone in FIRST, you can make a safer environment for LGBTQ+ youth. You can start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) or Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) at your lower schools. You can practice using gender inclusive languages such as “hey, students” instead of “hello, boys and girls.” You can introduce yourself with you pronouns (ex: “Hi, I’m Sean and I use he/him pronouns"). Most importantly, you can be there your your students, because being there makes a huge difference.
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.