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This Soccer Coach Came Out To His Team As Transgender With An Inspiring Speech

"I knew it would be good for them to see someone who they already respect and love be open about being transgender."

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Kaig Lightner, 36, is the founder and director of coaching for the Portland Community Football Club in Portland, Oregon. The only thing he loves more than soccer is sharing that passion with underprivileged youth in his community who also love the game.

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The group aims to provide high-quality coaching and level of play for families and youth in Portland who can't afford the high cost of entry for other soccer leagues. Lightner also wanted to create a league where athletes, coaches, and families from the LGBT community felt not only accepted, but welcomed.

The moment he confided in his team about his gender identity was filmed by a fellow coach and later posted to YouTube. "Some of you may or may not know this, but I am transgender," Lightner can be heard saying in the video.

View this video on YouTube

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"I've been working with youth since I was a teenager," Lightner, who left a previous coaching job when he was 26-years-old to begin transitioning, told BuzzFeed News. "I couldn't even fathom telling the girls and their families that I was going to identify as a man and start taking testosterone, even though I had an out queer family on the team!"

After he returned to coaching, Lightner found himself in the unique position of not having to reveal anything if he didn't choose to do so. "I am incredibly lucky that my gender presentation now fits society's stereotypes of looking like a man," he explained. "I could easily never say anything. But I think it's part of my responsibility as a privileged white person to share my identity."

"I started to realize that the players I see every day — whom I love like my own family — weren't getting to really know who I am and yet I expected them to show up to practice and be authentic, vulnerable, real, and work hard for me and the other coaches," Lightner said. "That felt inauthentic."

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"I knew it would be good for them to see someone who they already respect and love be open about being transgender," Lightner said of his decision to come out to his players. He decided to post it online to provide visibility to other trans athletes and coaches.

"I also recognize that there are so many trans and gender non-conforming people who don't have the resources, support, or ability to do what I did," he added. "That's why I am so open about it in every other aspect of my life. Coming out to the club was the final frontier."

Lightner admits he was nervous at first to open up about his gender identity, especially given the often rigid gender expectations and stereotypes in the sports world. In his coming out speech, he touches on the double standards that can arise in soccer and other sports.

"I grew up playing soccer as a girl," he goes on to explain in the video. "And that’s not something I share with players or people in the sports world very often because it’s not an easy thing. We have a lot of rules in sports about how boys play and how girls play. And that’s not really fair.”

At the end of his speech, Lightner asked if anyone had any questions. One player quickly shouts out the question all adults hate to hear: "How old are you?"

Lightner was relieved that his team took the news in stride. Practice that day was "business as usual," he said.

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"These kids come from cultures and religions that are different from my own experiences," Lightner said. "I didn't know what their response would be. I really appreciated that the first question was how old I am. I think it speaks to how much this generation of youth have so much more exposure to LGBT people and concepts than I did as a kid."

According to Lightner, the reactions he has received to his video have been "all positive" so far. On YouTube, the comments are also largely positive.

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"The most amazing thing has been the direct feedback from parents and kids," he said. "Just an outpouring of love and support. Plus, just honest questions from some of our youngest players, such as asking me why I wanted to be a boy."

The soccer coach hopes that anyone who watches the video will recognize that gender "isn't something that's rigid or binary." He also hopes that if trans youth see that there are trans people out in the world who are successful, happy, and following their dreams, that they can envision doing the same.

"To trans youth, I hope that I am just a small light at what I know can be a very dark tunnel," Lightner concluded. "We've come a long way but there is still so much more work to do."

Sarah Karlan is the Deputy LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Sarah Karlan at sarah.karlan@buzzfeed.com.

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