The first openly transgender cheerleader of the National Football League (NFL) will make her debut in the 2022 season starting in September.
Justine Lindsay, a 29-year-old Black trans woman, will cheer for the Carolina Panthers “TopCats”, becoming the first openly trans cheerleader of the NFL, BuzzFeed News first reported.
While there is not an official record for NFL cheerleaders hired throughout the league’s history, Lindsay appears to be the first openly transgender person.
Lindsay announced her hiring in an Instagram post from March, thanking the TopCats team, other dancers who supported her, and their director, Chandalae Lanouette: “This is a moment I will never forget and I cannot wait to show you all what this girl has to bring. Thank you [Topcats] a dream come true.”
In her first interview since joining the team, Lindsay spoke to BuzzFeed about anxiety she felt when posting on social media about her historic hire. “I was so scared,” she said. “There’s just some things you can’t post.”
Lindsay’s announcement has gone viral since then, with fans commenting messages of support and congratulations to the new cheerleader.
But, Lindsay has had to deal with transphobia, harassment she addressed in a recent Instagram post: “Thank you to all my haters who think I’m bringing the organization down, clearly I don’t,” wrote Lindsay on Monday.
She continued: “The carolina panthers Organization is an excellent one, one that supports all people white, black, yellow trans, straight etc. at the end of the day myself and the other 29 members [Topcats] made the squad fair and square.”
Lanouette and the Panthers also emphasized that Lindsay made the team due to her talent as a dancer.
“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 to BuzzFeed.
“Members of the TopCats are hired based on their qualifications and abilities,” the Panthers said in a statement shared with NPR. “Our organization is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate because of age, race, religion, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation, or national origin. We wish all the TopCats, including Justine Lindsay, an incredible season.”
Lindsay’s recent hire comes as conservative lawmakers across several states are passing legislation that criminalizes trans athletes.
Republican legislators in Ohio on Wednesday passed legislation in the House that would ban trans girls and women from participating in high school and college athletics. The bill would also mandate a genital inspection “verification process” for athletes suspected of being trans.
In March, the Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, signed a bill into law that banned trans girls and women from participating in high school and college sports. Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, allowed a similar legislative ban to become law by not vetoing it despite also not signing it.
Black cheerleaders also remain a minority in the NFL, with Eurocentric beauty expectations, like straighter hair, remaining the norm for dancers.
Lindsay, though, will be allowed to keep her bald look, which she adds is another opportunity to “inspire other young girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look”.
Overall, despite the barriers that the league is still grappling with, Lindsay said that she is excited to pave the way as a Black trans woman: “This is big,” she said to BuzzFeed. “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.”
Other NFL teams have made progress with diversifying their cheerleading roasters. In March 2018, the Los Angeles Rams hired its two first ever male cheerleaders.
That same year, the New Orleans Saints’ “Saintsations” hired its first ever male dancer.
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