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.