Portland soccer coach to team: I am transgender

Kaig Lightner is the founder of the Portland Community Football Club

Kaig Lightner, the founder and coach of the Portland Community Footbal Club, May 8, 2017 (KOIN)
Kaig Lightner, the founder and coach of the Portland Community Footbal Club, May 8, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The 36-year-old founder of a Portland soccer club recently huddled his players together and shared something personal about himself and the video of his announcement has attracted nationwide attention.

Kaig Lightner told his team he is transgender.

Kaig Lightner in a screen grab from his YouTube video posted May 3, 2017
Kaig Lightner in a screen grab from his YouTube video posted May 3, 2017

He told his players on the Portland Community Football Club at practice on May 1 and the video taken by another coach was uploaded to YouTube on May 3, 2017.

That day, he told his coaches he was going to tell the players, “and they were like, ‘Great! This is awesome!’ I handed the phone to one of my coaches and she recorded the whole thing.”

Lightner told his team he made the decision to let them know he was transgender following a soccer conference he attended in Washington, DC.

“I got together with about 300 other people and we talked about getting soccer out to a lot more kids,” he told his team, “and also about helping you guys as people get stronger and even better citizens through soccer.”

He said he realized “that we ask a lot of you guys to show up and be yourselves and be who you are and get to be better players and I haven’t totally shared with you something about myself that’s kind of important.”

“Some of you may or may not know this, but I am transgender,” Lightner told his players that day.

Excerpts from Kaig Lightner’s speech:

“I was born a girl and that I grew up playing this soccer as a girl — why are you laughing bro? It’s OK — and that’s not something I’d share with players or people in the sports world very often because it’s not an easy thing…

“I was born a girl and I didn’t really feel like a girl, I felt like a boy. But I had to play soccer as a girl and I got raised as a girl and I got told a lot of things about being a soccer player as a girl that I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that. …

“I think probably as you guys, as people living in this country, of somebody who has a different color skin than white people, I bet you all had same things said to you about the color of your skin or the way you talk or the country your parents are from. It’s really similar to how I got treated as a kid too, and so that’s why it was really important for me to tell you guys that I may have this white skin and I may look like I just cruised right through life with a lot of privilege — which i have had — but I have one thing that a lot of people don’t know about me. So that’s really important for me to tell you guys….

“What I also want you to know that’s really important is that there are other people like me everywhere. We just don’t always talk about it, OK? So you never know what’s going on with somebody, you never know what kind of thing they’re not sharing with you, so that’s why you have to be kind and respectful and nice to everybody you possibly can, even when people aren’t kind and respectful to you — which I know happens to you guys….

Lightner started the club in 2012 and said about 50 kids are involved in the club each year.

Kaig Lightner as a youth in an undated courtesy photo provided May 8, 2017 (Kaig Lightner)
Kaig Lightner as a youth in an undated courtesy photo provided May 8, 2017 (Kaig Lightner)

Soccer “is a sport I started as a young kid and just couldn’t give it up,” he told KOIN 6 News. He began coaching as a teenager, “so it’s in my blood.”

His vision and mission for the PCFC is to make soccer more accessible and break down the financial and resource barriers.

“Every kid gets a free uniform, every kid that asks for them and needs them gets cleats and shin guards,” he said.

The kids on the team come from different communities, speak different languages and have different cultures, he said. But he and the other coaches “really expect the kids to uphold the values of love and respect for each other.”

“Transgender youth frequently lack role models and face isolation due to rejection from their family members and bullying at school. Because more than 40 percent of transgender people will attempt suicide in their lifetime due to lack of societal acceptance, it is critical that transgender youth feel valued and respected in their schools. Coach Lightner’s players now know someone who is openly LGBTQ, meaning they are more likely to be supportive of a classmate who might come out as transgender. Coach Lightner’s decision to come out not only sends a powerful message of acceptance to transgender youth struggling with their gender identity, but it is also helping to make his players’ schools safer spaces for transgender youth and LGBTQ youth broadly.”   -Amy Herzfeld-Copple, Co-Executive Director, Basic Rights Oregon

Lightner said he was nervous about telling his players but their reaction put him at ease. The responses, he said, were pretty typical teen responses — giggling and feet-shuffling.

“But they were so kind as well,” he said. “Their questions were so honest.”

The first question they asked: How old are you?

Lightner laughed and said, “That’s the important thing you guys want to know?”

The kids on the PCFC are “a good mirror of who you are, and this is party of why I came out to them. I felt like I wasn’t fully showing them who I was.”

He hopes the kids will now pause and look at people with more empathy.

“They may step up for somebody at school who’s getting bullied, because I got bullied a lot as a kid,” he said. “I would hope that this helps these kids to know that they can stand up and be a voice for people that are getting bullied.”

He told KOIN 6 News he never imagined this video would get the attention it has, but he’s happy about it.

“I think that I have a message, I have a voice to speak to an experience that certainly is my experience, but other people have a similar experience as well. It’s great that it’s out there and people are talking about it.”

Since he told his team, he said he heard from another coach. “When we split up in our teams, she heard them say, ‘Whatever. It’s just Coach Kaig. It doesn’t matter. Let’s go play soccer.'”

As of 3 p.m. Monday, the video, “Authenticity” has been viewed more than 53,000 times.