By: Eva (She/Her)
We’re celebrating Pride Month by amplifying the voices and experiences of individuals within the LGTBQ+ community. This series of contributed blogs has been written by members of LGBTQ+ of FIRST, a student-led organization that advocates for awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ students, mentors, and volunteers within the FIRST community.
I’m Eva (she/her) and I’m a FIRST alumna from Indiana. I also happen to be transgender and asexual. Throughout the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of my time involved with all things FIRST, from founding Neurodivergent of FIRST, being a staff member in two other FIRST-related organizations, to being a team member and mentoring seven different teams, the list goes on.
The environment that FIRST creates is a truly unique one, where the atmosphere and the community transcends the field and competitions in a way that no other sport really can. While FIRST had no direct involvement with the creation of any of the equity-based organizations created by members of the FIRST community, they carefully crafted the perfect environment for them to take root and blossom. In the same manner that FIRST inspires thousands of students to enter the STEAM fields every year, they inspire us to contribute in a way that ensures everyone has a home within FIRST.
As an anecdote, I have my own story, though not one I thought I’d ever be sharing at this level: It’s competition season 2018. I was going through, but slowly recovering from, a horrific depressive episode the previous fall; the worst I’ve ever experienced to date. For this reason, I wasn’t able to enjoy competitions much because of the state of my mental health. This was also the point in time when I began to consider that I might not have been straight. I specifically remember just sitting in the bleachers at Plainfield, and internally repeating the same few sentences about how “disgusting” and “depraved” I was.
Regardless of how the season went, that was the year that the ideas and values of FIRST truly sunk in and “clicked” for me. I felt at home in FIRST and with my team. Whatever the future held, I’d found my people, that was for certain. In all the time since then, I’ve pondered a lot on what FIRST really meant to me and concluded that it meant safety.
In the following months, I finally found out who I was. The joy that gave me was quickly eclipsed by the realization of where I came from and who knew me. I’d seen what happened to LGBTQ+ people in my community and was terrified of receiving the same treatment. My lifeline through this time was FIRST, including LGBTQ+ of FIRST. It was somewhere to be myself without fear. It was somewhere to meet people like me who also shared my love of robots. It was somewhere safe.
Reality was harsh. Coming out to the people I was closest to just made them shun me. My best friend at the time responded with several actions that eventually led to a string of threats. Everything I knew to be true was only confirmed. However, FIRST provided an environment that allowed me to push forward and thrive. This is the same story for many LGBTQ+ people who face criticism and judgement daily. FIRST is somewhere where anyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, can thrive without hindrance.
Through my involvement with FIRST, I was inspired to be the best version of myself possible. Suddenly, I found myself as a lead on two teams and a mentor on three others. Then, I began organizing Neurodivergent of FIRST. Before I knew it, I was speaking at event after event and even had not one, but two Championship conferences lined up. FIRST taught me to let nothing get between me and my dreams. Thanks to FIRST, I’m doing things now that I could only dream of before.
When I headed off to college, I discovered that I was able to be myself around more and more people. Eventually, I felt safe enough to come out publicly. Going away from my hometown gave me a new sense of security, and the impassable wall of coming out eventually just became a speedbump. Attending a university like Purdue might not have been an option for me without FIRST’s influence and impact.
Before FIRST, I was scared, confused, and depressed, and I shudder to think about where I would’ve ended up as an adult had I never gotten involved with a community that so openly allowed me to be myself. I am proud of how far FIRST has come in equity, diversity, and inclusion since I started FIRST Tech Challenge in 7th grade and am astounded with the progress the organization had made to ensure that STEAM is for everyone. To every student, mentor, volunteer, parent, and staff member that makes FIRST the special place it is today, thank you.
To learn more about how to create a more inclusive environment on your FIRST team, check out our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion trainings and resources, as well as our new partnership with Project THRIVE and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.