The National Football League (NFL) has hired its first openly transgender cheerleader. Justine Lindsay, 29, created history, after announcing on Instagram that she has made it to the Topcats, the cheerleading group for the Carolina Panthers. In the same Instagram post in March, she also announced that she is transgender and proud to be part of the Carolina Panthers.
Lindsay will now represent the Carolina Panthers at a variety of activities, including community events, fundraisers, and business meetings. Lindsay is considered to be the first openly transgender female in the NFL, despite the fact that the league does not keep track of cheerleaders.
For the NFL too it is a big move given that the league is known for its progressiveness. Lindsey is also excited after creating history. "Cats Out the Bag you are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleader's @topcats as the first Transgender female," read the caption, which was next to a photo of her smiling in her cheerleading uniform.
Lindsay also said that she was skeptical about her selection given that she is transgender and didn't hide it from the selectors. However, she admitted that she was originally hesitant to reveal that she is transgender, noting that it is a closely guarded secret - one that her best friend admitted she was unaware of.
"I was so scared," Lindsay told BuzzFeed News about posting the Instagram in her first interview since joining the team. "There's just some things you can't post. I just felt like whatever reaction I get from everyone, it does not matter," Lindsay recounted. "And then my phone started blowing up."
At the same time, Lindsay said that she is proud to take on that mantle. "I think more people need to see this. It's not because I want recognition. It's to shed light on what's going on in this world," she told the outlet.
New Identity, New Career
Lindsay is excited about both her new career and true identity. She is already practicing with her squad and is gearing up for a series of events where she is schedule d to perform.
Fewer than one in every three individuals knows someone who is transgender, according to the Trevor Project, and Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs, believes it is "critical" for LGBTQ youngsters to encounter more openly transgender adults.
Chandalae Lanouette, the Topcats' director, said that Lindsay stated on her application that she was transgender, but it was her ability, not her history-making, that got her on the team.
"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.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Lindsay expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a role model. "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 said.
While men have recently been allowed to join NFL cheerleading groups, there has been little movement for women. The majority of squads still choose a "all-American" look (read: white, slim, European beauty standards), in which the women are expected to compete like athletes while looking like pinup models.
Black women make up a small percentage of NFL cheerleaders, and even fewer sport natural hair. Lindsay claimed she watched "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team", a CMT reality show that follows women auditioning for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, while preparing to try out for the Topcats, and noted that their appearance had a huge role in whether they were selected.