Justine Simone Lindsay has made NFL history as its first openly transgender cheerleader.
The 29-year-old has joined the Topcats, the Carolina Panthers’ cheerleading squad. She announced the news late last month on Instagram.
“Cats Out the Bag you are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleader’s @topcats as the first Transgender female,” Lindsay wrote alongside a picture of herself in uniform.
“This is a moment I will never forget and I cannot wait to show you all what this girl has to bring.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Lindsay revealed that the post also served as her coming-out to everyone but her family. She said she hadn’t even told her best friend she was trans.
“I was so scared,” she told the outlet.
“I just felt like when I posted it, whatever reaction I get from everyone, it does not matter,” she said. “And then my phone started blowing up.”
The squad’s director, Chandalae Lanouette, told BuzzFeed that Lindsay disclosed on her application that she was transgender, but it was her talent alone that landed her the gig.
“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.
Lindsay, who sports a shaved head, said she was relieved when her coach told her she could keep it that way. Other Black cheerleaders have spoken in the past of their difficulties managing their hair to fit whitewashed beauty standards in professional cheerleading.
Lindsay said she’s proud to break down barriers for future athletes as a Black trans woman, and acknowledged the significance of being hired in a field where Black women are underrepresented.
“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.”
Lindsay’s announcement comes as transgender athletes in the U.S. face increasing discrimination and bans. Just days ago, the Ohio state House passed a bill that would ban all transgender students from playing high school and college sports and require genital exams in any disputes.