Justine Lindsay made NFL history last week after she earned her spot on the TopCats.
Lindsay announced on Instagram that she made the Carolina Panthers’ cheerleading squad for next season, which makes her the first openly transgender cheerleader in NFL history.
Lindsay actually came out to her teammates and most of the people in her life when she published that post.
“I was so scared,” Lindsay told BuzzFeed News about sending that post to Instagram. “There’s just some things you can’t post … 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.”
Lindsay may not actually be the first transgender cheerleader to make an NFL team’s squad, as there aren’t clear records across the league that could verify that fact. She is, though, the first person to be open about it.
While most of the people in Lindsay’s life didn’t know, TopCats director Chandalae Lanouette said that she wrote on her application that she was transgender.
“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, via BuzzFeed.
Cheerleading teams have changed slowly in recent years, both in the NFL and across professional sports in the United States. Many teams have started including men and even ditched traditional teams altogether in favor of a “spirit squad” or similar formed organization. The TopCats have two men on their 30-person roster for the 2022 season, too.
Though it wasn’t her goal, Lindsay isn’t shying away from the history that comes with her making the team. She knows how big of a deal it is as a Black trans woman, and what that can mean to so many people across the country.
“This is big,” she told 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 … 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.' ”