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NFL team welcomes first openly trans cheerleader to squad: 'More people need to see this'

'I was able to break down that door and tell people, 'Hey, we are not just sexual beings.''

NFL team welcomes first openly trans cheerleader to squad: 'More people need to see this'
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Justine Simone Lindsay

Justine Lindsay has made National Football League history by becoming the first openly trans NFL cheerleader. At 29, she joined the Carolina Panthers' cheerleading squad, the TopCats. In a March Instagram post, Lindsay came out as trans to her new teammates and the community, captioning a photo of herself in her cheerleading uniform with, "Cats Out the Bag you are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleader's @topcats as the first Transgender female."


Speaking to BuzzFeed News about coming out through the social media announcement, Lindsay admitted that she was very scared. "There's just some things you can't post," she said. She revealed that even her best friend—whom she calls a sister—didn't know she was trans. She'd kept it a secret from everyone except her family. "I just felt like when I posted it, whatever reaction I get from everyone, it does not matter," Lindsay recalled. "And then my phone started blowing up." Although there is no official record of NFL cheerleaders throughout history, Lindsay is believed to be the first trans person to be an NFL cheerleader.


Addressing her history-making achievement, Lindsay said she's happy to "break down that door" for future trans athletes. Meanwhile, Chandalae Lanouette—the TopCats' director—explained that while Lindsay had noted on her application that she was transgender, the decision to welcome her to the squared was solely based on her talent. "My goal is to create a team of individuals that are absolute fire on the field but are incredible human beings in the locker room, good friends, good people, and at the end of the day, you have to walk through the door first to get to that spot," Lanouette said.


While NFL cheerleading squads have recently begun accepting men, progress for women remains slow. Most squads still favor the cookie-cutter "all-American" look, expecting women to look like pinup models and perform like athletes. Among the few Black women who are NFL cheerleaders, very few wear their hair natural. Lindsay shared that while preparing to try out for the TopCats, she noticed on the reality show "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team" that appearance played a huge role in selections.


She was relieved when her coach told her she could keep her bald head, as she wants to "inspire other young girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look." Beyond performing on the sidelines, cheerleaders represent their team at community events, fundraisers, and business conferences. "This is big," said Lindsay, expressing pride in breaking barriers as a Black trans woman. "I think more people need to see this. It's not because I want recognition. It's just to shed light on what's going on in the world."


Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said that the visibility of the transgender community is "critical" in a statement addressing Lindsay becoming the first openly trans NFL cheerleader. "Our research shows that LGBTQ youth report that seeing LGBTQ representation by celebrities and athletes made them feel good about being LGBTQ," Ames said. "Especially in a place like the NFL, which occupies such a powerful position in our culture, the story of a transgender cheerleader can inspire so much more than victory. She can give young people watching a dream to hold on to and a future to hold out for."


"I'm happy because I was able to break down that door and tell people, 'Hey, we are not just sexual beings,'" Lindsay said. "'We are actual human beings who want to better ourselves.' I felt like, Why not tell the world: 'Hey, listen, this is a great accomplishment.'"

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 6, 2022. It has since been updated.

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