Meet Justine Lindsay, the first openly trans cheerleader in NFL history. 

The 29-year-old is one of the newest members of the Panthers’ TopCats cheerleading squad. She shared the announcement on her Instagram as the league prepares for its 2022-2023 season.  

“I’m paving the way for those under me who are scared and afraid to take that step because it is not easy to do…” she shared in a post. “I will continue to be that pioneer I will continue to inspire and help my African American beautiful trans sisters until my last breath. So please mind your manners and understand that if you can’t say anything nice please keep it to yourself.”

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Lindsay revealed that the news of her joining the cheerleading team acted as a dual announcement since it was the first time she publicly came out as trans to many of her friends and family. 

“I was so scared,” she told the publication. “There’s just some things you can’t post… I just felt like when I posted it, whatever reaction I get from everyone, it does not matter. And then my phone started blowing up.”

While there is no official record of the history of the NFL’s cheerleading rosters, being that there could have been trans women on teams in the past, Lindsay is confirmed to be the first trans cheerleader within the NFL to be open about her identity. 

When trying out for the squad, Lindsay mentioned being trans on her application, but according to TopCats director Chandalae Lanouette, it was her overall talent and athleticism that she felt made her the perfect fit for 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 told Buzzfeed.

For Lindsay, this moment marks a shift in the forward progress for trans visibility in the sports world and she hopes that her new position will create more spaces and opportunities for trans athletes in the future.

“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.”

“I’m happy because I was able to break down that door and tell people, ‘Hey, we are not just sexual beings,'” Lindsay continued. “We are actual human beings who want to better ourselves. I felt like, ‘Why not tell the world—hey listen, this is a great accomplishment.’”