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.
Lightner also happens to be transgender, a part of his life he had, until recently, not shared with the young athletes he coaches.
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.
In the video, one of the players can be seen giving his coach a hug mid-speech.
The YouTube video, titled "Authenticity", and has been viewed over 28,000 times since being posted last week.
"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."
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.
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.
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."