Trans students and mentors are not safe at FIRST Championship

I very much wish that was the case. But if the last 5 years of politics have taught us anything, it should be the very obvious emboldening effect that occurs to unsavory portions of our society when those in power support or refuse to distance themselves from them.


As the saying often goes, Texas isn’t a red state, just a non-voting one. Progressive activism is well and alive here, and despite how awful it looks, don’t give up on us, because eventually, we’ll break through the voting restrictions and draconian policies that arise.

With regard to gerrymandering, if you look at Beto’s performance in 2018, he actually won a majority of the (also gerrymandered) state rep districts. As the state approaches turning blue, it has most definitely sparked an increased attempt by the right to extract every last vote out of their base— policies like this are a direct result from progressive action to mobilize non-voting groups.

For my fellow Texans, the polls are quite literally open right now. Go vote in the primaries to ensure that we have leaders who care about the issues like discussed in this thread representing us at the ballot in November.


What can we do to help them feel safer?

We can tell them that we have their backs, no matter what. That we will ignore any law that would require us to put them at risk. That we will stand between them and anyone who would harm them, even at risk to ourselves. That if they feel safer choosing not to travel to Texas, we will respect their choice and never hold it against them.

This governor’s order is an open attack on our queer students. It is severe, it is personal, and it is not to be taken lightly, and absolutely, yes it is an indictment of the state of Texas.

If Abbott does not rescind his order, should FIRST pull worlds out of Texas this year? Absolutely. But it’s not practical to do so. At this time, they will not find a suitable alternate venue the same weekend. It’s unlikely that they would find one anytime within the next year. (These venues are booked years in advance.) The financial penalties FIRST would incur by outright canceling 2022 Worlds in Houston would be profound, making it difficult for FIRST to function, if at all. So we’re stuck with Houston this year, and for however many years remain on FIRST’s contract with the Brown convention center.

But after that? FIRST needs to make it publicly clear that this order conflicts with core FIRST principles of diversity and inclusion, and they will not abide such hostility towards our students and staff. FIRST should announce intentions to take its prestigious championship to other states which do share our principles, and will never return to Texas until Texas abandons that hostility. (It should call out Greg Abbott by name when it does so.) To do anything else is to send the message that FIRST is okay with what’s happened.

I’ll go so far as to say Dean should make this announcement himself, on the stage at Minute Maid this April.


if only they already had a contract with an alternate venue in a much more competently managed state that would only delay the event by a week


To be clear, I am not disagreeing with you here, but trying to keep a discussion which is in some ways inherently surreal as grounded as possible.

What are the consequences to FIRST if they don’t? Will you or I stop participating? Will we decline to attend the event in Houston? Decline an invitation to the World Championship on behalf of our teams? Will teams pledge to not attend the event in the future? To not register for the program at all?

Forgive my cynicism, but I think reality will bear out that most participants in FIRST, and perhaps even HQ itself, are blissfully unaware that this is going on. Given that, I have absolutely no expectation that FIRST will alter its plans for the immediate future, nor will they revisit existing commitments they may have made to this venue.

Money talks. It’s the only thing that does, unfortunately, so until there is a genuine financial penalty for failing to take action, momentum will carry us forward with the status quo.

I appreciate the beginning of your response and I think it’s spot on – and more readily actionable. Mentors and volunteers can clearly signal their support and, more importantly, their resources and power, in support of these kids.


Because the whole goal of this program is to use the robotics competitions as a vehicle to build ethical, gracious, and capable young people - to bolster them so they feel empowered to continue in their chosen fields. Unless every young person is sure they’re welcomed here no matter who they are, our community isn’t complete.

Also, the R is Recognition.


This response is so ignorant to the lives of so many within the first program. First strives to keep its program diverse inclusive and safe. Worrying about this amidst the current situation is what a mindful member of First should take into account.


I took the bait. Don’t be like me. Don’t take the bait.


Can you expand here? What is FIRST “promoting” in your eyes with this proposed move that isn’t already in FIRST’s core values?

IMO, taking a stand against policies that do harm to young people, some of whom may be our students, promotes ‘equitable treatment of all human beings’, which I can’t imagine standing against.


To be honest, I’m heavily considering it. I’m in a position where I’m not involved this year but I was looking to come back, and the recent developments regarding this and the student name field have definitely given me hesitation about that, not to mention the lack of any program-wide COVID policies earlier in the year. I’m really glad I participated in FIRST for pretty much my whole life up until this year, but at this point I’m not sure if HQ is running an organization that I want to support.


Can I implore y’all to please, please, please not take the bait? You’re going to argue with someone who’s shown absolutely no interest in nuance or compassion and it’ll only lead to this thread getting closed and stifling any valuable discussion that may be to come about what we can do to make this program better.


Well said. I think a lot of this discussion is useful, even when folks disagree with each other. Respect (for all - not just for the posters, but for the folks who are the subject of the discussion) is key.

It’s too late (early?) for my brain to deal with attitudes like that at this point in the season, and sorry for my part in encouraging the less-than-useful components of this thread.

I do think the point about ‘will you continue to support’ is important.

Do I currently see a better vehicle to support my students’ growth and learning? Not right this second. (At least, not without foundationally changing our programs - which is doable but 17 years of work is tough to unravel).
Am I less than excited about the direction HQ seems to be taking? Definitely.
Will I still be here trying to make it better however I can? 100%, but I’m not sure I’d be traveling to / supporting this specific event this year (I already was considering not going, since… y’know… pandemic.)


Look, to all of y’all saying not to engage, I see you. And it certainly seems like this person is arguing in bad faith and doesn’t really care about learning anything. However, on the off chance that they’re simply misguided and we can do anything to help them learn, I’m going to try. So then, like others have said, FIRST is about more than just robots. One of the main goals of FIRST is to raise young adults to become upstanding people who can use their skills to help those around them. By hosting championships in (and only in) Houston, FIRST is most certainly not helping marginalized communities whom the government of Texas has repeatedly shown contempt for. As far as “people having different views”, that’s true. I can’t refute that. But as I stated in my previous post, there is an abundance of scientific evidence for the existence of transgender people. If your point of view disagrees with well-established science, consider changing your point of view. Learn something new (learning is also a core tenant of FIRST, is it not?) and use your knowledge to support people, not tear them down. I apologize profusely for the heated tone of this comment, but people refusing to recognize trans rights as an important issue (or worse, being against trans rights) makes me incredibly upset. I have little patience for anyone who believes that I am unnatural or an abomination unto god or anything of that sort. So please just let me know straight up whether you are raising what you believe to be genuine concerns, or whether you are simply attempting to distract from the issue at hand and raise discord between members of this platform. If it’s the former, I will be happy to discuss with you. If it’s the latter, then there is nothing I can do to change your mind and that’s that, I suppose, unfortunate as it may be.


In addition to the dirty politics, there are also quite a large number of workers imported by the various industries (Oil and Gas, medical, aerospace/NASA) that are here on various visas that do not allow them to vote. I know I am not the only FIRST mentor in that position. I have often wondered why the immigration system in the U.S. is so much more dysfunctional than in other developed countries. Perhaps it is another way of keeping people from being able to vote.

Leading up to the election 5 1/2 years ago, one of my coworkers who is a white cis male Texas native asked me about how to move to Canada, repeatedly. Then a second similar coworker started asking me the same thing…

Politics affect all aspects of our lives. The politics of Texas allows just about anyone to carry a firearm with almost no limitation. At a previous job, our CTO had the habit of picking on the employees who didn’t kiss up or told him he was wrong (the laws of physics don’t respect your position on the org-chart). Several of my coworkers started getting “that crazy look in their eyes” and made me wonder if we were going to be on the evening news as yet another site of a workplace shooting. Both of those coworkers eventually had one last argument with our CTO, walked out and never went back.

As someone who is a visible minority and knowing what sort of outright discriminatory laws the U.S. government has put in place throughout it’s history to oppress various minorities, it is unconscionable not to stand with those in our community who are threatened.

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller

Edited to add: I have noticed that a disproportionate number of the participants in this program are visible minorities, many born elsewhere, who are also vulnerable to the same sorts of discriminatory practices the current Texas Governor is promoting.


“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

There is no “dropping” politics. Refusing to stand against transphobia is not neutrality, it is directly enabling bigotry and hate.


No. Yes. If it were my decision to make, I would say yes. But it’s not. I think it’s something our team should discuss–are we comfortable attending an event in a place which openly declares one or more of our members to be “abused”, simply for being themselves? A place that demands that we, as their mentors, report them as “abused”?

Should FIRST renew its contract in Houston, or sign another one within Texas, while this order or one like it is in effect, yes, teams should pledge not to attend.

As I’ve said, I expect them not to revisit existing signed commitments. That’s not practical. FIRST taking the championships out of Texas after that is intended to be money talking.

I’ll attend with my team this year, if we qualify. After that, I will discourage my team from attending. We can continue competing at the regional level, but nothing in places hostile to even one of our students is acceptable.

This is major news. I will not be the only one contacting HQ through normal channels to raise the issue. They have no excuse to be ignorant. If they will throw a few of my students under a bus in the name of convenience or comfort, then they are beneath us, and not worth any of our efforts.


This has been on my mind a lot the last couple of years.

I think understanding FIRST decisions boils down to the fact that FIRST is oriented towards Capital first, and engineers as people second.

FIRST, and the similar SAE racing programs, are explicitly designed to increase the supply of engineers, and capture the competitive spirit to train us towards voluntarily working insane hours to meet [near-]impossible deadlines with ambitious scope and little to no formal training, and to do it with a GP “big tent” attitude and a smile.

The habits those programs trained into me are mostly good for my employer. I’m paid salary.
It’s a pretty sweet salary, that has come at significant personal cost in overtime and overcommitment. I’m tired, and this program taught me not to listen to “I’m tired.” I don’t see how I’ll do this for another forty years.

Through the Capital-first lens, it’s obvious that FIRST would choose to host in a state unwilling to disrupt corporate planning with public health crisis abatement, and would choose to ignore Abbott’s fundamentalist grandstanding against our students and our mentors with some flavor of “well the RegularPeople™ have nothing to worry about” business consensus approach of enabling Evangelical bullying and out-grouping tactics due to percieved constituency sizes.

The most obvious form of Gracious Professional is the Big Tent - just giving a smile and wave to folks you disagree with personally but respect their professional inputs. We’ve already seen that Big Tent approach to GP weaponized upthread with the patently-ridiculous-in-this-situation “keep your politics out of my robots” claims. It’s the same type of GP that successfully keeps factory floors running with ~20% Q-ers on staff in the heartland, or my former SF-area solar company in business with construction subcontractors with 5x-greater-than-life-size Trump heads posted in their jobsite trailers: the GP that is extremely valuable to Capital.

Clearly this discussion is no longer in the realm of “personal to keep out of the professional”, if the Governor has ordered me and all other mentors in the state that may not share my professional opinions to take the action of outing trans students if we step into his state. The governor has dragged my and my students personal business into the professional realm by issuing the order based on our [voluntary] profession. My professional opinion as an experienced mentor is that he has no business doing so - or really no business in knowing anything about my students medical information.

From here, the GP framework shows its weakness: It’s not obvious how to graciously, forcefully, but most important effectively push back, when the topic is not so simple as physics and the “professional” giving me feedback is both obviously wrong and holds more organizational power.

The only clear option for a Forceful Statement is to personally disengage from the situation. To leave, potentially taking the team with me.

Yet, when I look for a “replacement program”… I need my students to know that they can do impossible things. I want a challenge that forces my students to rise to the occasion the way I did. I haven’t found a comparable program - and I’ve tried piloting several now - that offers the same visceral level of accomplishment. And I don’t need to take away the local and Regional competition experience from my students, even if I would shy away from taking them to Houston.


Nail. → Head. This is exactly right.


To be fair non-citizens are not allowed to vote in most countries. You cannot just pick up and immigrate to most developed countries. I am not sure what this has to do with trans students filling safe in Texas.


For better or worse we all have another way of voting in a capitalist country: our wallets. CMP sends a lot of money into TX through hotel stays, airport fees, meals, etc. The taxes collected on the above transactions go to the TX state government and the party responsible for this deplorable behavior and policymaking. By choosing where to spend your money you choose to exert influence via the golden (green?) rule.