When you think of FIRST, what is the first thing pops into your head? For many people it’s robots, outreach, or helping your community. For some it is the inclusivity of FIRST and, hopefully, how welcome they feel on their team. FIRST is supposed to be an all-inclusive organization, welcoming people from every race, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and background. FIRST is an organization that wants to bring together everyone and anyone as one big family. But for some people they may not have been exposed to members of the LGBTQ+ community and may been misinformed/uninformed of non-heterosexual and cis (identifying with the gender assigned at birth) identities; it may be difficult for these people to relate to members of the LGBTQ+ community that are on their team. If you’re one of those people, there are ways to become informed and make your teammates who are in the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and welcomed on your team.
When I first joined my team two years ago, I met two of my best friends. One was transgender and gay. The other was gender fluid. At the time, I had a no idea what gender fluid even was. I was incredibly uninformed and would be embarrassed when I would misgender either of them or use the wrong pronouns. And for much too long of a time, I did use the wrong pronouns. It took time for me to continuously call them by the correct pronouns, but I tried relentlessly to get it right, often times thinking about what I was going say a few times just to make sure the pronouns were right. If you’re on a team with someone who’s transgender or completely non-binary, you must try your absolute hardest to call them by their correct pronouns. Now I was lucky enough that my friends wouldn’t visibly get too upset when I would accidentally let the wrong pronoun slip out, but every time I did it I knew that inside I was hurting my friends. People I cared about. People that were a part of my team. That was why I urge all people in FIRST who are cisgender to use always remember to use correct pronouns. This a way you can avoid hurting people.
Another issue I often see on my team is a lack of understanding towards LGBTQ+ members. There are certain needs that these students have that must be met. Each student is different and that is a good thing, so they must all be helped in a different way. An example of this may be a student making another student feel uncomfortable through hate-filled remarks about another person’s gender or sexuality. This is completely unacceptable, doesn’t follow FIRST’s message, and must be dealt with by the mentors of that team. FIRST is meant to be an all-inclusive organization where everyone can feel safe, so it stands that the teams in FIRST must be the same. It is the responsibility of all members of FIRST, especially the mentors, to make sure that LGBTQ+ students and all others feel safe on their team. If that means disciplinary action must be taken on a student or mentor, then it is the responsibility of the head mentor or whoever runs the team to make sure that action is taken.
FIRST Teams in general should be a welcoming environment for everyone. That’s one of the main goals of FIRST. So it should be the goal of everyone in FIRST to welcome in members of the LGBTQ+ community and make sure they feel safe and like a valued member of the team. You never know, your team may just be the only place they feel that way.
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.