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.