Will trans students be and feel safe at the 2022 VEX World Championship?

(I’ve moved this to a public category at Pascal’s suggestion and with the students’ agreement; if it turns offensive I’ll move the discussion back to a non-public category)

I’ve had a few concerned students reach out to me about the 2022 VEX World Championship following the Texas Governor’s recent statement that “any form of affirming care for trans kids is child abuse” and must be reported by teachers and doctors. This post is made at the students’ request and on their behalf.

VEX has lots of teams in Texas, and thousands more will travel there for the championships. Trans team members in VEX, FIRST, and other programs experience frequent discrimination, and the students who have expressed concerns to me are worried about the reception they and their teachers will get in Dallas.

Our questions:

  1. What can we do to promote the safety and comfort of trans students at the upcoming World Championships?
  2. Will the RECF and/or teachers at the event be complying with the Governor’s order?
  3. Can the RECF guarantee the safety of all students both inside and outside of the venue?
  4. Is it even safe for trans students to come to Texas?
  5. Will RECF continue to host the World Championships in Dallas if policies like this are adopted by the state of Texas?

For more thoughts on all of this, I’d recommend this thread on the FIRST robotics forum: Are trans students safe at the FIRST Championship? - General Forum - Chief Delphi.

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This is an honest discussion for all - so I would wish all to be part of the discussion.

If any of our teams make it to Worlds, we will support their expression of who they are and their safety 100%.

If your teams are invited to Worlds you have two choices, go or not to go. If you do not go, who will hear your message?

RECF can never guarantee the safety of students outside the venue - unrealistic.

If your team has trans students, they will have ally’s at the event.

I think it comes down to the question, will we support our students to be who they are? I am pretty much sure yes. Will there be those who feel uncomfortable, probably, but the over-all community is pretty accepting.

Had similar conversation about myriad of issues with TX for LGBQT+ acceptance with my colleague… Be there, be your best… that will be respected in the long run.

Now if we head to Worlds, might have a pride flag design embedded to our teams competition shirts. No rules against that :slight_smile:

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@DanMantz

Dan,

I think it would be good to weigh in on this important topic about inclusivity and sense of safety for all students coming to Worlds in the context of Texas Governor’s statement that “any form of affirming care for trans kids is child abuse” and must be reported by teachers and doctors.

Moreover, support of all our students in LGBQT+ community, including being able to utilize restrooms of their gender identity and having gender neutral facilities.

These first steps would make students feel welcome at Worlds… Moreover, if inclusionary and non-discrimination language were included in RECF Code of Conduct, that would promote a safe space globally.

I had the unfortunate experience to have to deal with a student on a team tell a team with muslim background “we do not negotiate with terrorist” just because one member of the team coming to plan an upcoming match had a turban. Prejudice or discrimination should have no place place in robotics competition.

From personal experience, robotics competition is not always welcoming. I think it is time to make a strong statement that ALL are welcomed at Worlds in a safe supported manner.

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The irony, and probably the purpose, of the statement is inherently a form of child abuse.

I agree that RECF should consider future venues only in locations where all participants can feel safe to being their true selves during the competition.

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As a Texan, I hope a city like Dallas will have mostly nice and respectful people, like urban areas tend to.

IMHO, Abbott (the Governor) is mostly representing how America’s urban/rural divide plays out in Texas. Usually, urban people and governments behave very differently from rural ones and texas just happens to have so much rural/semi-urban that its governor is a hostile person. Of course, this means the state laws are also sometimes hostile.
TL;DR tx governor doesn’t represent most city folks (hopefully; from my limited viewpoint)

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This is an issue that affects me personally, and as such, I’d like to make my voice heard.

The thing about southern states as a whole(and Texas specifically), is that they’re not very safe places, historically, for LGBTQIA+ people. Personally, I was in Texas about 6 or so months after I came out, and didn’t really feel safe in places. Granted, not in Dallas. But downtown Houston had me shook, to say the least.

This, 1000%. However sad the reality may be, it’s just unrealistic for an organization like the RECF to even attempt something like that outside of the venue. Granted, really the only thing they can do within the venue is putting up posters and whatnot saying that trans people are welcome. I know it sounds not-great, but it’s kind of all that can be done.

Now, this is an interesting question. One which I am even less qualified to speak to than the rest. Generally, I wouldn’t say it’s “safe” for transgender people to go to Texas, but in an area like the one which Worlds will be held in, a massive convention center in a massive population center, I’d say your students can lose more sleep over their robots than their safety.

Again, something I’m not qualified to speak to. I’d hope that if something terrible were to happen, or enough of a fuss was raised, the RECF would definitely consider relocating Worlds, as the safety of their competitors is paramount.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that cities should be a little more like Bend, OR, and more accepting and welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community. People shouldn’t be treated different because of how they choose to perceive themselves and present themselves. Sadly, this is more of a utopian vision than anything. But the world can’t change unless people change it. And situations like this can’t be changed unless people stand up for these issues, and make their struggles known.

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Installing a zero tolerance policy on transphobia and enforcing it is one possibility.

As stated before, RECF can only garuntee safety inside. Outside, make sure your trans team members don’t go anywhere alone. Having a group of people often deters aggressors.

Im no expert so I only gave input where I thought it would be helpful, but these questions need to definitely be addressed by the board.

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I’m sure as most students would feel safe at the venue, trans people have the same rights as non-trans people. No more and no less, and im sure most of the people there would respect that.

As someone who went to the venue in Kentucky, not once did I feel unsafe or unconfortable. The atmosphere there really isnt focused on what gender people are, rather on robotics and having fun.

As I said earlier everyone has the same rights, the governor cannot enforce otherwise.

Is it safe for trans people to goto OK, IO, FL? Each state is definitely different, everyone asks the same question when traveling to unknown areas.

Hope this helps a little

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I’m posting this on behalf of a student who wishes to remain anonymous:

“I know that I don’t feel comfortable traveling to Dallas for worlds, should my team qualify, in light of the Governor’s remarks. I hope that in the future the RECF will do their best to ensure that all students including myself and everyone else attending the events feels safe and comfortable being themselves while there. My hope is that they will choose a location that is safe for everyone and update the code of conduct to protect against discrimination towards anyone. I will probably still attend worlds if I qualify since I don’t want to miss the opportunity and I hope that other trans students feel safe in going as well, but with the governor’s order I feel very uncomfortable having to go there in order to attend the event. Having to dress, look, and act a certain way that isn’t true to myself in order to feel safe attending a robotics competition that is meant to be fun is definitely not something I want to do but unfortunately it’s either that or risk my entire family’s safety, and I’m not willing to risk that.”

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I was coming to the forum, this morning, to ask exactly these questions. Thank you for starting this essential conversation.
I generally agree with the thoughts that have been shared, with the caveat that anyone (including myself) who is not themselves a trans person or member of the LGBTQ+ community is not in a position to accurately assess how “safe” or “unsafe” one of our students will feel.
With that in mind, I think the only appropriate course of action for RECF is to immediately communicate to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center that it intends to begin a search for a venue in a state whose laws unambiguously guarantee the rights of all youth to feel welcome, safe and free to seek gender-affirming health care. From a moral and ethical standpoint, I believe it is our obligation as coaches and mentors to push the RECF to make clear to Texas and any other state with similar discriminatory and hateful political leadership that our students’ physical and emotional safety is paramount and non-negotiable, and that we will move our event to a state where we can adhere to that commitment. Please reach out to your regional coordinators and the leadership of RECF to encourage and support advocacy on behalf of our students.

Dave Wasser
Team 1784

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Emphasis mine, I back this position.

Roboteers and mentors need to understand that Venue bookings for events the size of Worlds are done years in advance. By making this statement and canceling next years reservation may mean a vastly scaled down Worlds in 2023.

It will most likely increase the cost for Worlds Teams to attend.

(edited to fix words and spelling)

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safety of students > scheduling

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Yes, I am fully aware of that. But it could certainly be said - and I did say it - that RECF was wrong to ever have considered Texas as a host state. This situation was not unforeseeable and did not just arise out of nowhere.
As I said, RECF should immediately begin the search for a new venue and make clear that the Governor and AG’s actions are antithetical to its mission of sharing the joy of robotics with ALL students. Our commitment to our students should be non-negotiable.

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I think their viewpoint was more hyperfocused on cost-effectiveness. They likely picked Dallas because the costs are low for Texas as compared to other states. Additionally, Dallas is only like 1 hour from VEX HQ. But, if there’s even one instance of discrimination I think it’s not too unrealistic for RECF to relocate.

To shine to light on a positive note: Most people (>90%) you will see at Dallas will likely be other VEX competitors (Based on my experience on previous VEX Worlds in Kentucky). Once Worlds happens, you will almost always be within 100 feet from another competitor. The community for the event is large enough to drastically change the environment and mood of downtown itself. There will be so many people and adults watching over the space, both inside and out making sure everyone is safe as a community, to a point where it’s extremely difficult for something bad to happen.

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Why Texas?

  • RECF and VEX based in Texas, which means lower transportation costs of gear to venue
  • Not many venues are suitable size available for the time frame Worlds is held
  • Multi-year agreements equate to lower costs

Now if you want the price per team to increase faster, then venue hopping and last minute changes are the way to go.

I think we can do better to discuss what RECF can do to make students feel safe. They have done so in the past with tricky situations.

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Oh, I am sure that it was a decision very much focused on cost! Hopefully, going forward, these decisions will be shaped more by considerations about the physical and emotional well-being of our participants and their families.
I also agree with you that a large majority of the people inside the venue are accepting of each other regardless of how they identify. But I want to suggest that if we’re at a point where we have to say to our trans and LGBTQ+ kids, “Don’t worry - we’ll have lots of people there to watch over you,” or tell them it would be “extremely difficult for something bad to happen to you, there” then it begs the question, “Why are we going there?”

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It was wrong to consider Texas because of it’s legacy as a place where the rights of minorities have been continuously attacked.

I thought that was exactly what we are doing! And what I and others are saying is, let’s start with not asking students to attend events in places where the top government officials are hostile to their existence. I don’t think Texans are bad people. Some of my best friends live in Texas. But a boycott is an effective way to communicate disagreement and advocate for positive political and social change.

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Now is a time to circle the wagons and protect the members of the VEX community who are more vulnerable to hate crimes and state persecution, on basis of religion, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, or gender.

Us Texas teams especially need to make it clear that this behavior from our governor will not fly. The only actions that they will listen to will be coordinated and organized actions. Public figures used to attend FRC events all the time, pre-pandemic. It’s conceivable that they will be there to talk with teams, and a trans flag on every Texan robot would send a very clear message. But coordinated actions are not the only actions that matter. Personal interaction and support on an individual scale are just as important right now.

Have a conversation with your students. Make it clear that ANY intolerance towards trans people, ANY animosity on basis of LGBT identity will result in immediate consequences. I don’t feel comfortable mobilizing or deputizing students to act in this capacity, but I do think a policy of escalating any transphobic behavior to the nearest safe adult would be appropriate.

In that respect, we need a symbol to recognize us. It’s conceivable that a trans student could be challenged by an adult at the venue, and the students have to know that help is nearby. I’d be more than willing to coordinate with other coaches and responsible adults who will be there to make sure that any confrontation is defused and resolved for the safety of the students and that every trans student knows that some piece of clothing, a safety pin, a button, a sticker, a sign in the pit area, means that this is a safe team and a safe adult to seek help from.

Me, I’m going to have a very serious conversation with my students. Like I said, I will not be deputizing them to act in defense of a trans student. That is far too much responsibility for a 14-year-old. But they need to know which adults to tell, who can then act on behalf of the trans students.

As coaches and teams, we must recognize the power we have to force the REC’s hand in this matter, and we shouldn’t expect unprompted action from them. Codifying anti-discrimination language into the Game Manual, as some have suggested, would be monumental. Moving the event from Texas until the policy is overturned would be bigger, but less realistic. We should still push for it, but I have no confidence in it happening.

Coaches and students who wish to organize, please DM me or @ me in this thread. An organized response is not the only tool we possess in this matter, but it is a powerful one.

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It would be nice if there were Vex stickers similar to these Pride Stickers - Pack of 6 - FIRST Store Online eStore (i think these are discontinued by FIRST). i.e. robotics themed pride/trans flag stickers

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The ally flag is pretty widely recognized, and I like to wear a pin version when I volunteer at events. Amazon sells pins and lanyards that feature it, which are both good ways to show that you’re an ally and a safe space. Here’s a link to the style I have.

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