Justine Lindsay’s continued rise was a bright spot in a dreary season

Justine Lindsay’s continued rise was a bright spot in a dreary season

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Justine Lindsay

There wasn’t a whole lot of joy for the Carolina Panthers in a 2-15 season in 2023. Perhaps the only thing that was “tops” at Bank of America Stadium were the Panthers cheerleading corps, The TopCats.

And right in the middle of it all was Justine Lindsay.

Now a year removed from making history as the first out transgender woman to make the cut as NFL cheerleader, the already-accomplished rookie gilded effortlessly into her second year having become a fan favorite among Panther fans.

In a first year where trolls attempted to tread, she showed dancer’s grace combined with linebacker grit.

“I told myself, “Hey, listen, I’m making a change one way or another,” she stated to Business Insider last June. “I just shut it out. Anytime you’re doing something great or positive, someone’s always going to come behind and try to steal your joy. So I just have to continue to do what I love to do.”

The haters were Lindsay’s motivators, but she was powered by a pure love to perform that quickly translated to thousands of fans in the stands.

A boundless energy was evident and carried into a second season. As  TopCats coach Chandalae Lanouette stated to Elle about Lindsay’s first, “She had a shaved head and so much confidence. You could tell that she was happy to be in the space with other dancers, and that’s kind of what you look for.”

She also became a inspiring touchstone for a transgender community. With so much news surrounding discrimination, bad legislation and all-around frustration, seeing the tall, talented Lindsay on the sideline was a healing balm.

It was extra special for trans youth, and she noted that it was the messages she recieved from parents of trans youth that gave her an additional boost.

“To get those messages, like those DMs in my phone saying, ‘Your story just really empowered me to be a better parent for my child,’ and just say, ‘thank you,’ you know, for my story … It does something to you,” she said to Huffpost last October. “It just lets you know, wow, I’m really changing the world.” 

Lindsay got in the position to change the world by starting to change her own. The 30-year-old Charlotte metro native grew up loving dance ever since seeing the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre perform when she was age 5. At 14, she started ballet.

Along the way, she saw a path to settling into her full self. That same year, she was selected to attend the Debbie Allen Dance Academy on scholarship. A move west to Los Angeles started a beautiful trajectory in more ways than one.

“I was around people who were open about being who they are,” Lindsay recalled to Elle last year. “I became more comfortable asking, ‘Who am I?’”

By the time she headed off to college, she knew. She worked through her transition while earning a degree in communications from North Carolina State. Still, she kept the circle small until her breakthrough with TopCats, when she let the “cat of the bag,” as she described on Instagram.

In a game and a league some have seen as staidly resistant to change, Lindsay is helping to move things forward alongside a number of other teams that have seen their cheerleader corps diversify over the last few years.

Between gamedays, she is a woman on the move and making huge strides. She’s hosted one podcast and started another. She’s an advocate for LGBTQ+ people not just in North Carolina but all across the country, lending her voice to the growing fight over trans rights at home and across the nation. 

Most importantly, Justine Lindsay has just been her beautiful self. Her greatest gift to all of us has been doing simply that.

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