NFL’s First Openly Transgender Cheerleader Joins The Carolina Panthers Cheerleading Squad

justinesimone007 via Instagram

Justine Lindsay is the newest member of the NFL Topcats, the Carolina Panthers’ cheerleading squad. Why is that making headlines? Because she’s the first openly transgender cheerleader in the NFL.

Lindsay announced the news on her Instagram. “Cats Out the Bag you are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleader’s @topcats as the first Transgender female,” she posted to the social media site under a photo of her smiling ear to ear in her new cheerleading uniform.

That’s right—it wasn’t well known that she was transgender until now. In fact, many of her closest friends didn’t even know.

“I was so scared [to post about it]. There’s just some things you can’t post,” she said.

“I just felt like when I posted it, whatever reaction I get from everyone, it does not matter. And then my phone started blowing up,” she added.

That’s likely because there have been no known NFL cheerleaders throughout history to come out as trans. Lindsay said that she hopes the news will help “break down that door” for future trans athletes.

The news wasn’t a secret from the hiring managers. Chandalae Lanouette, the Topcats’ director, said Lindsay’s application did state that she was transgender. The reason she was hired, however, had everything to do with her talents.

“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.

In general, the NFL is not known for being very progressive. In fact, there are few black women on the team, and even fewer who wear their hair natural, like Lindsay, who says she hopes it “inspire[s] other young girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look.”

On top of that, it’s important for people to be able to get some visibility into the transgender community. “Our research shows that LGBTQ youth report that seeing LGBTQ representation by celebrities and athletes made them feel good about being LGBTQ,” said Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at the suicide-prevention organization for LGBTQ youth. “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.”

“This is big,” Lindsay said of her being a black transgender person. “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.”

Hear more from Lindsay in the video below!