What is your team doing to promote an LGBTQ+ inclusive atmosphere?

FIRST recently released a blog post about some work they’re doing program-wide to promote, celebrate, and support LGBTQ youth. However, for better or for worse, FIRST doesn’t do a whole lot of sticking its hands into team operations where this kind of thing can be most effective. So what do you, as individuals or teams, as mentors or student leaders, do to actively promote inclusion as a core value of your team?

Here are some gimmes (aka every team should be doing this):

  • When you hear a queerphobic “joke,” comment (eg “that looks gay”), or slur, shut it down instantly and directly.
  • Address everyone by their desired name and pronouns.
  • Be respectful to everyone no matter what.

Do you do pride-themed events or swag? Do you partner with LGBTQ-specific organizations for outreach events? Do you run or require ED&I training?

And before we get started, please don’t come in here with “we don’t do any of this and don’t think we should.” You should. Full stop. When you’re a queer high schooler it can feel like the entire world is against you except for some small pockets. Be one of those pockets.

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I can’t say we do a lot of outreach in that area, but we have self-assignable pronoun roles on our team server / ask people to introduce themselves with preferred pronouns, which was something we implemented after a member brought it up as a potential way to be more inclusive. I’m really excited to hear ideas other people have in this thread, hopefully we can learn something from everyone else!

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Aside from the gimmes, starting in 2019, my alum team began to de-gender hotel room assignments for travel competitions. This was inspired by several of our members being outside of the gender binary. If I recall correctly (my memory of this is hazy; someone currently on the team can correct me if they see this), we got approval from both of our schools* to set this plan into action, then sent a consent waiver to all parents of team members. We then sent out a survey for all students to complete about who they wanted to room with, regardless of AGAB or current gender identity.

Please PM me if you want to learn more about how we did this. I’m aware this likely is not currently a possibility for the vast majority of school-based teams, but I hope to help any interested person even start this conversation on their team.

*Note: both schools are charter schools, and thus are not overseen by any school board

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We certainly use preferred pronouns (and this has come up before, which also included the student changing their name halfway through high school). Our core value of “Compassion” (full description in the image below) heads off disrespectful jokes or comments that may make someone uncomfortable, and provides an easy way for anyone on the team to correct someone if they slip.

We do not have any active outreach in this area.

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There’s already been great advice in this thread so I want to come at this from the perspective of an LGBTQ+ alum and mentor. My biggest focus as someone who happens to be in that position is to be a positive queer role model to my students. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a more accepting time period than many queer people before me, but even still I did not know any openly queer adults until I got to college. I know it would have been very meaningful to me as a queer kid to get to know successful adults who were also LGBTQ+. My hope is that I can be that representation to my students.

As for team-wide action, I think it’s important to make your stance in support of LGBTQ+ students and mentors known. This doesn’t have to be through a statement or speech given each year. In our workspace, we have many pride flags hanging on the walls representing a wide range of identities. Just yesterday I sent a “happy pride” message to the team through Slack. These are small but highly visible acts; I don’t shy away from those things. Supporting LGBTQ+ team members is non-negotiable.

I am open about my sexuality and I encourage students to have conversations about queer identities. Questions are good, provided they come from a genuine desire to learn. What I don’t tolerate are questions asked in bad faith, jokes made at the expense of others, or blatantly queerphobic remarks. We can talk about these things on our team, they shouldn’t be taboo, but we have to do so with respect.

If I could give one piece of advice to cisgender, heterosexual mentors out there it would be this: make it clear that queer people have a safe place on your team. Make your team a safe haven for queer kids who may feel isolated and ostracized. And when your queer mentors or students tell you there is a problem, listen to them.

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To be honest. As a mentor, the sexual orientation, religious and political views of the students are not any of my business. Since most of the team members are minors, this also gets into issues of parental consent. This limits the amount of outreach in this area. Having said that we do not tolerate discriminatory behavior. We have the expectation that team members treat others in a caring and inclusive manner.

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I see this differently. This sort of mentality tells the students that only part of them is accepted - the part that works on the robot/with the team. Inclusiveness is about understanding and accepting people as a whole. If I had a mentor when I was in high school, leading by example and showing me that not only do gay people exist, but can be successful engineers, that would have given me a role model and probably saved me a lot of depression. Instead I was hiding a part of myself that I didn’t even understand because of people who thought that it has no place on the team. It’s not enough to say “I don’t see sexuality”, you need to be willing to say “I understand where you’re coming from, how can I help you?”. Students are at an age where they’re figuring themselves out. Please don’t shut down part of who they are because it’s “not relevant”.

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To take a shot at “steel-manning” this:

  1. Mentors/Team should pick the right set of policies such that they can meet and help the most students, regardless of where that student is at.
  2. A careful and thoughtful balance is needed in choosing when and where to address potentially sensitive topics head-on.
  3. There are concerns about the methods used when addressing these topics due to minor/not-minor relationships.

Would that align with your thought processes?

This has to be different for everyone right? Not everyone is going to want that part of their life focused on in a school/team environment. How do you assess how any given students wants to be treated in regards to this subject? I agree with Frank that it is not our place as mentors to be asking students about private personal details.

As I type this Gerthworm just responded as well. I feel like the process that is going to work for most teams to help the most students is going to be one that ignores the sexual identity of the students and just embraces them as an individual.

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Please don’t take what I say as the mentors prying for details about the students’ lives. What I’m saying is more about being open and available for students to come to if they need to. In my case, I’m trying to be the role model I didn’t have - if someone asks what I’m up to, being honest about having date night with the boyfriend (well, ex now…). Set yourself up to be available, and present yourself as willing to help, but not making a big deal about anything. FIRST is about More Than Robots, it’s about helping students grow.

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When the existence of LGBTQ+ people is highly politicized, and can be used as “justification” to discriminate against students and make them feel unwelcome, it unfortunately can very quickly become your business.

My worry with this, and with any team, is that without specific awareness of the types of discrimination, harm, and otherwise exclusionary behavior that can be used to push LGBTQ+ students out of the program without a mentor seeing it as “discriminatory”. This is why actively being a proponent is the only effective method; silence on the topic benefits those hurting others.

In no way is this specific of your or any team, but it’s something as mentors we have to be aware of. I’ve seen and experienced it myself more than once.

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There are some easy ways to address this.

1: As a mentor, you can ensure you do introductions with your pronouns to start.

2: In your first team meeting, you can actively mention your anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies and spell out exactly what they mean.

3: If you have done any ED&I training you can mention that.

4: You can state flat out that you are a safe person to talk to regarding things such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

5: Have simple visual reminders up around, including pride flags, LGBTQ+ of FIRST pins, etc.

For high school kids, these are more than just platitudes. It can literally save lives. Knowing they have a safe space to be themselves is huge. As an out, gay man, my life was literally saved by the FIRST program. I was not out in the early 2000’s in high school, but knowing my friends on my team supported me, and our mentors would support queer people was enough to keep me alive. Mental health issues disproportionately effect LGBTQ+ teens.

I have since gone on to co-found The Rainbow STEM Alliance, who’s mission is to support LGBTQ+ K-12 students pursuing STEM education. We support the LGBTQ+ of FIRST student group, provide pronoun ribbons and pins at champs, as well as produce the LGBTQ+ of FIRST pins.

While there is not a one size fits all solution to these problems, there are simple steps that teams (and especially mentors) can take to ensure a safe and accepting space for your LGBTQ+ students.

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I don’t think anyone has (or will) advocate for asking students about private, personal details. Do you think I am misinterpreting others’ suggestions about inclusive behaviors?

It’s up to our students to determine what they wish to keep private and what they wish to share. Promoting an inclusive atmosphere isn’t about requiring anyone to share anything – it’s simply about making sure that people feel supported and safe with whatever they do decide to share.

There is a distinct, important difference between an environment that ignores students’ (and mentors’, for that matter) identities and one that supports them.

I am very private about my personal life, both among the students and mentors on my team and at work. A student asked me to wear a pin from LGBTQ+ of FIRST at a competition several years ago and, in that moment, I was faced with a simple decision – accept the pin with gratitude and wear it to show my acceptance and support of this student or demur and send a message to the student that I thought ambiguity and the perception of neutrality were more important. At season’s end, that student and several others confided in me that seeing me wear that pin at competitions made them feel more safe and welcomed in FIRST than they had previously. One student was confident enough to speak up, but the impact extended far beyond just that one.

That’s good enough evidence for me that it’s the right thing to do.

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Sorry, I definitely misunderstood. I was not sure how you would go about making sure parts of who students are weren’t shut down without asking specifically about those aspects.

And thanks @Jon_K , I think those are some good actions to take. Some of those are done in some manner already on our team.

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During my time as a student in FIRST, I felt like it was difficult to find other participants who were also LGBTQ+, which would have been helpful for me during those years. Visibility to see others that are like you (or you think are like you) can be really helpful. Towards the end of my participation I started finding other LGBTQ FIRST friends from Twitter.

Nowadays FIRST (and the US) is pretty different, and there are far more avenues to find LGBTQ participants and resources surrounding the topic. For years when I had a public personality online I would try to promote other LGBTQ mentors/creators in the community.

As for team-specific actions - I try to be visible for my team members (students and mentors alike). My identity doesn’t define my entire personality, but I certainly don’t hide it either. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of LGBTQ students pass through the team - I hope they find some solace knowing there’s someone like them around.

I also try to be very mindful when I speak to use inclusive language. I tend to use gender-neutral pronouns most of the time, avoid the small phrases like “Okay guys”, etc.

All very small things, but long-term helpful. It’s not as flashy as handing out rainbow swag during June. It’s a long, slow, boring trek to inclusivity.


Edit:

Basically - this.

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There are a ton of cool things teams can do, and this list is not going to be exhaustive by any means but there are a few cool things that teams can do.

  1. If your team has a handbook, add a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, and include who to reach out to to report harassment.

  2. Encourage students and mentors to take FIRST’s ED&I training found here: https://www.firstinspires.org/resource-library/training-equity-diversity-inclusion

  3. Consider having your team apply to become an LGBTQ+ of FIRST Partner Team (lgbtqoffirst.org)

Of course, making these changes aren’t always possible, so here are some ways to be a good ally to LGBTQ+ people.

  1. Do your research! Reading up on LGBTQ+ identities can help you understand how people might be feeling (see some great resources at lgbtqoffirst.org)

  2. Remember that LGBTQ+ people can get asked about their identity so much that it causes burnout, so be mindful to keep this in mind.

I know some of this has been said before, but it is really important that you try to be a good ally to all marginalized communities in FIRST. I have heard heartbreaking stories of people being discluded from their team because of who they are, and I think everyone can agree that every child in FIRST deserves a safe space to be who they are without fear.

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Yes at that point it becomes my business. I don’t use “we don’t talk about it” to allow bad behavior regardless of the reason.

Great examples, Jon!

Teams could also include the FIRST Core Values in their team expectation documents, by signing off on them it highlights the values the team expects students to follow - discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork, fun.

Coordinating a roundtable meeting at an event around this topic is another way to engage the community in positive discussions around the challenges LGBTQ+ students might be facing and what support has helped them in the past.

The whole team could do ED&I training or set-up a date where the team and the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) student group at the school exchange information about FIRST and the LGBTQ+ youth organization.

I think your point about having the visual reminders is a great example of a small action someone can take (putting on a pin) that has a huge impact on the students that see it. I personally also appreciate that The Rainbow STEM Alliance created pronoun pins in 2020! The pronoun badge banners we created in 2017 and brought to the FIRST Championships couldn’t be used at events where the students didn’t have name tags.

Transitioning to the pins in 2020 became a much better way to ensure individuals could share their preferred pronouns while at events. (And this is where we say COVID SUCKS because the pins weren’t able to get distributed last year :cry:).

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This post reminded me of a MLK quote that I love:

“It is obvious if a man is entered at the starting line in a race 300 years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat to catch up with his fellow runner.”

Regardless of where applied to gender, race, or sexual orientation, the sentiment is still the same: We can not just anti-discrimination, we have to be pro-nondiscrimination. We have to actively fight for the people that deserve equality.

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I think you meant Straw man? I am not sure that applies because I was not trying to substitute a different subject. But answering one of the questions the OP posed.

Mentors/Team should pick the right set of policies such that they can meet and help the most students, regardless of where that student is at.

The needs of the many verses the needs of the few. Many a dissertation has been written on this subject. But ultimately you have to decide what to do with your limited resources. I actually have little to do with what my team focuses it outreach on. That is largely a youth led thing.

  1. A careful and thoughtful balance is needed in choosing when and where to address potentially sensitive topics head-on.
  2. There are concerns about the methods used when addressing these topics due to minor/not-minor relationships.

Largely. My function on the team is primarily a technical mentor. Like it or not there is a gulf between minor team members and mentor. I am also a mandatory reporter. Which means I cannot guaranty confidentiality on certain subjects. Your sexual orientation is not one of the things I have to report on, however, unless there is abuse involved. If a team member came to me asking for advice or encouragement I would give it to the best of my ability.

Would that align with your thought processes?

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