Dancer Justine Lindsay has made sporting history by becoming the National Football League’s (NFL) first-ever openly trans cheerleader after signing for the Carolina Panthers.
Amidst the growing hostility towards trans athletes, Lindsay has brought joy to LGBTQ+ football fans by paving the way for trans and non-binary people in the sporting world.
The 29-year-old dancer is the newest member of the Topcats cheerleading squad, which supports North Carolina’s Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
Announcing the exciting news on Instagram back in March, Lindsay thanked those who have supported her on her journey to joining the Topcats.
“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 wrote.
“I would like to thank the beautiful and talented dancers who supported me along the way…I would not have gotten to this moment in my life if it wasn’t for the support.”
Lindsay described her new role as a “dream come true”, adding: “This is a moment I will never forget and I cannot wait to show you all what this girl has to bring.”
Speaking to BuzzFeed in her first interview since joining the squad, Lindsay shared that she is ready to “break down that door” for trans athletes and Black cheerleaders, who represent only a small portion of NFL squad members according to a 2020 Allure report.
“This is big,” she said. “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.
“I’m happy because I was able to break down that door and tell people, ‘Hey, we are not just sexual beings. 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.’”
The NFL is not known for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, with top coach Jon Gruden resigning last year after a homophobic email scandal.
Carl Nassib is the the only NFL player to have publicly come out as gay during his time on the pitch, and was dismissed from his position on the Las Vegas Raiders earlier this year. The NFL insisted that Nassib was cut for financial reasons.
Explaining the decision to have Lindsay join the squad, Topcats’ director Chandalae Lanouette said the new cheerleader fits her goal to “create a team of individuals that are absolute fire on the field but are incredible human beings in the locker room”.
“At the end of the day, you have to walk through the door first to get to that spot,” she told BuzzFeed.
Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said Lindsay’s visibility will “inspire so much more than victory”, adding: “She can give young people watching a dream to hold on to and a future to hold out for.”