The first transgender-identifying professional cheerleader has returned for a second season with the NFL.
Justine Lindsay will cheer with the Carolina Panthers’s TopCats during the 2023 football season. The 30-year-old first made the team in 2022 and built a public platform focused on transgender-related advocacy.
“Everything that I’m going through now, it’s bigger than me,” Lindsay told Elle in an interview published on Sept. 18. “I’m setting things up for the younger generation. No one is going to stop this show.”
“I want to change the narrative for my trans sisters and brothers, just to [let them] know that if you have a goal, go for it,” the cheerleader continued. “Turn that dream into a reality. Be an NFL cheerleader, or a doctor, or a nurse, or whatever you set your mind to.”
According to Elle, Lindsay’s “presence in the stadium has symbolized the start of a new chapter for NFL cheer.”
Lindsay took ballet classes while growing up in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. While a sophomore at North Carolina State University, Lindsay began to identify as a transgender woman.
“I knew there was a young girl inside of me. I just didn’t know who to go to or what resources I had,” Lindsay recounted in July during an as-told-to essay with Business Insider. “I didn’t have a big sister who was also trans to look up to, someone who could help me navigate that.”
Lindsey told the outlet:
Being part of a major platform like the NFL, I realized I was able to open up a lot of people’s minds to other possibilities. Inclusion of trans-athletes in sports is important because, in this world we live in today, we meet so many different, beautiful beings. Every person is made differently. If you shut one person out, you’re shutting out a new opportunity, a new idea. So it’s very important to be open-minded to the possibilities.
Chandalae Lanouette, the TopCats Director, said gender was not a factor in the team’s decision to offer Lindsay a spot. While Lindsay noted identifying as transgender on the team’s application, the dancer was not publicly out at the time of the audition.
“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 told BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed also celebrated Lindsay’s spot in the NFL as a progressive choice and win for African-American women as “most squads still gravitate toward an ‘all-American’ look (read: white, thin, European standards of beauty), where the women are expected to perform like athletes but look like pinup models.”