The National Football League made history by hiring its first transgender cheerleader. The move by the Carolina Panthers came earlier this year with her first interviews and photographs appearing this week.
Justine Simone Lindsay, 29, is the newest member of the Panthers’ TopCats cheerleading squad. She announced her hiring on Instagram at the same time she came out as transgender. Even her best friend, Lindsay says, did not know.
Only her family knew her secret, but when she posted the revelation on Instagram, “my phone started blowing up.” The TopCats did not announce their newest addition as transgender.
Lindsay, who will represent the Panthers at events as varied as fundraisers and business conferences, thanked the “beautiful and talented dancers” who supported her all the way.
Sam Ames is the director of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, an anti-suicide group for LGBT youth. He praises the move by the Carolina TopCats, noting the importance of the NFL in American culture.
The league does not maintain records of cheerleaders historically, but it is almost certain Lindsay is the first trans member of a squad.
Ames says “the story of a transgender cheerleader can inspire so much more than victory.” He cites research showing when these youth see representation by celebrities and athletes, it makes them feel positive about themselves.
Lindsay said while watching the CMT reality show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,” she noticed that the contestant’s appearance was a “big factor” on whether they were selected.
Lindsay expresses satisfaction that her coach said she could keep her bald head, which she wants to motivate “other young girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look.”
Topcats director Chandalae Lanouette said while Lindsay included on her application that she is transgender, it was not history-making that landed her on the cheer squad, but talent. She said her one goal is to create a dance team that is “absolute fire on the field.”
Male cheerleaders have become a thing in the NFL over the past few years for the 26 teams that have squads. At least 11 currently feature men cheering, and the Super Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams had two on the sidelines.