The first openly transgender cheerleader has joined an NFL team – a “big” moment that she says she hopes will inspire others on and off the gridiron.
Justine Lindsay, 29, said in an interview Saturday that she’s proud to “break down that door” for future trans athletes by joining the cheerleading squad for the Carolina Panthers’ TopCats.
“This is big,” she told BuzzFeed News. “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.”
Lindsay first publicly came out as trans when she announced on Instagram that she was joining the Panthers squad in March.
“Cats out the bag,” Lindsay’s post read. “I would like to thank the beautiful and talented dancers who supported me along the way … This is a moment I will never forget and I cannot wait to show you all what this girl has to bring.”
She said she was terrified to come out as trans online after keeping her gender identity a secret from even her best friend, whom she considers to be like a sister.
Justine Lindsay first publicly came out as trans when she announced that she was joining the Panthers cheerleaders in March.Instagram/@jus_lindsay_
“I was so scared,” she told the outlet of the post. “There’s just some things you can’t post.”
“I just felt like when I posted it, whatever reaction I get from, everyone, it doesn’t matter,” Lindsay continued. “And then my phone started blowing up.”
Though Lindsay indicated she was transgender on her application, TopCats director Chandalae Lanouette said it was her skill as a cheerleader that got her on the team.
TopCats director Chandalae Lanouette said it was Justine Lindsay’s skill as a cheerleader that got her on the team.John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
“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 told BuzzFeed.
While prepping for her tryout, Lindsay watched a reality show about the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad and noted how their appearance was a sizable factor during the selection process.
But Lindsay was pleased to learn when her coach could keep her bald head, which she hopes will inspire “other young girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look.
Justine Lindsay watched a reality show about the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad to help prep for her TopCats tryout.Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
In addition to strutting her stuff on the field, Lindsay will also represent the Panthers at fundraisers and business conferences, BuzzFeed News reported.
Lindsay posted another shot of herself in Panthers gear in early April with the caption, “who’s with me?”
“I’m ready to give it all I got,” she wrote in the post.
In a new post early Monday, Lindsay pushed back against “negative energy.”
“Understand that we are all [God’s] children, that he is an awesome God from sun up to sun down,” she wrote. “I live through him. Negative hate stay away.”
Lindsay is believed to be the first trans person hired as an NFL cheerleader, although the league doesn’t keep official records pertaining to gender identity, BuzzFeed News reported.
Justine Lindsay said that she’s proud to “break down that door” for future trans athletes.Instagram/@jus_lindsay_
Fewer than 1 in 3 people know someone who is transgender, according to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth.
“Our research shows that LGBTQ youth report that seeing LGBTQ representation by celebrities and athletes made them feel good about being LGBTQ,” the group’s director of advocacy and government affairs, Sam Ames, told BuzzFeed.
“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.”