Metro Weekly

Justine Lindsay Is the First-Ever Transgender NFL Cheerleader

Member of Carolina Panthers' TopCats squad is the first out transgender woman on an NFL cheerleading squad.

Justine Lindsay – Photo: Instagram.

A transgender woman has become the first known transgender cheerleader in the NFL after she made the Carolina Panthers’ TopCats cheerleading and dance team earlier this year.

Justine Lindsay, 29, made the team earlier this year after auditioning, according to a March 30 post on her Instagram. While the NFL doesn’t keep records of cheerleaders’ gender identity, Lindsay is believed to be the first transgender cheerleader in the league, and is certainly the first “out” one.

“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 … 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.”

Speaking to BuzzFeed News in an interview, Lindsay said she was “scared” to share the Instagram post due to fear of backlash, adding: “There’s just some things you can’t post.”

Lindsay’s hesitation was understandable. Throughout the years, transgender people have been vilified by segments of society, although in recent years, attacks have ramped up, in part due to a calculation by Republican lawmakers that discomfort and unfamiliarity with transgender people — as well as a general backlash against liberalism and so-called “woke” culture — can be a potent political wedge-issue in the upcoming November elections. In the past two years, lawmakers in nearly 20 states have proposed or passed laws targeting transgender people’s ability to compete in sports, receive gender-affirming care, or live free from discrimination.

But she ultimately shared the post, and does not regret doing so.

“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,’ she told BuzzFeed News. “I felt like, ‘Why not tell the world: “Hey, listen, this is a great accomplishment.”‘”

Chandalae Lanouette, the Topcats’ director, said that while Lindsay noted she was transgender on her application, her talent, not her gender identity, was what landed her on the squad.

“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.

“Members of the TopCats are hired based on their qualifications and abilities,” the Panthers said in a statement to NPR that echoed Lanouette’s commnets. “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.”

In her new position, Lindsay will cheer at the team’s 17 regular season games (plus any others, if the Panthers make the playoffs) starting in September. She will also represent the team at fundraisers, business conferences, and other promotional events.

Since her Instagram post went live, Lindsay has received both messages of affirmation and condemnation, with supportive fans telling her to block out messages of hate or those questioning her spot on the squad.

“Thank you to all my haters who think I’m bringing the organization down, clearly I don’t,” Lindsay said in an Instagram post on Monday. “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 [of] @topcats made the squad fair and square.”

The narrative, pushed by some commenters, that Lindsay took a cisgender woman’s place on the team is also undermined by the fact that at least 11 NFL teams allow cisgender men to be part of their cheerleading squads, but those individuals don’t seem to have received the same level of vitriol or hatred for taking up a limited number of spots on the squad.

Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, the world’s top suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, said Lindsay’s visibility could send positive messages to transgender youth. 

“Our research shows that LGBTQ youth report that seeing LGBTQ representation by celebrities and athletes made them feel good about being LGBTQ,” Ames told BuzzFeed News. “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.”

Her presence on the squad could also serve to educate the larger public about misconceptions about transgender people. Polling shows that fewer than 1 in 3 Americans know someone who is transgender, making it easy for misinformation or bigoted messaging about transgender people to spread. 

“This is big,” Lindsay 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.”

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