After becoming a member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats cheerleading squad in March, Justine Lindsay was told there was nothing quite like the team’s first home game of the season. That sentiment proved to be true.
“It was the best moment I could imagine,” she recalled in an interview earlier this week about the Panthers’ season opener on Sept. 11. “It looked like it was about 115 degrees and there were so many people in the stands. It was a beautiful Sunday.”
Lindsay, 30, is the NFL’s first openly transgender cheerleader. His arrival in the NFL was first announced in a personal Instagram post in March and was followed in June by a series of media coverage. Now more than halfway through the NFL season and in support of Transgender Awareness Week (November 13-19), Lindsay is determined not only to be a role model for others, but to enjoy every second of the process.
Lindsay, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, recalled the day TopCats director Chandalae Lanouette told her she made the team. She was driving through an unfamiliar part of Charlotte and pulled into the parking lot of a crowded church.
“I heard ‘Congratulations’ and I just passed out,” she said. “Next thing I know I jumped out of my car and I was crying and jumping up and down hysterically. These people came up to me and asked me if I was okay, and when I told them what had happened, they gave me a hug and told me they they were so proud of me.It was a beautiful moment, getting encouragement from people I didn’t even know really hit the mark.
Lindsay said she has received support from many within the Panthers organization and the Charlotte community. But being the first openly trans cheerleader didn’t come without its challenges.
She was “already dealing with” the questions that seemingly cross every dancer’s mind: Am I good enough? Am I skinny enough? Do I look like the role? Then, she came across endless ugly comments from people on social media.
“For people who never knew me to comment on my creation, it really made me think, Wow, I thought we were moving on,” she said. “But I have to switch off and continue to be a strong vessel for my community in some way, shape, or form. It’s not easy, but I’m getting through it. I have an incredible support system with my family, my teammates, my coach, the Teppers (Panthers owners) and everybody within the organization, everybody went 10 feet down for me and checked that I was mentally prepared for that, and they’re still checking.
“Being on the field on Sundays representing this organization is more than just being a fan. It’s being the face of what is possible. I never thought I would have so much courage to do this. … I’ve had so many parents of young people in the trans community say thank you for the support. what I’m doing and your son or daughter is watching me. They’re so pleased to see I’m tearing down that wall.”
Lindsay said she’s learned a lot about herself over the past year, the most important being taking time to love yourself.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who has supported me from March until now. I love you and I hope I can still inspire young trans people to let them know they can do the same thing I’m doing, if not more. I just hope I can be an inspiration to someone out there. “