In 2011, Jaiyah Saelua of American Samoa became the first openly transgender person to play in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. Her performance in the match was instrumental to breaking the American Samoan team's losing streak by clearing a goal-bound ball from the opposing team and preserving their first ever win. Saelua spoke to VICE News about her athletic career, stigma she's faced as a transgender person at a U.S. college, and being featured in the recently released documentary Next Goal Wins.
VICE News: How did you get into soccer?
Jaiyah Saelua: It was the only competitive sport opened up to the private elementary schools in American Samoa, so I started playing when I was 11 or 12. My first coach ever was Nicky Salapu. [He was the goalkeeper in American Samoa’s 31-0 loss to Australia and in their 2011 victory over Tonga.] That year we won the championship, and I got MVP. If we had lost and I didn’t do well, I probably would not have had much interest in soccer. Then my freshman year in high school I got asked to try out for the national team, and I made the team.
You left the national team when you went to college in Hawaii. What did you make of America's less tolerant views?
Growing up in a community that is so accepting and loving, it’s hard to understand what the big deal is. I really don’t understand why anyone would hate someone so much because of who they are.
Did you experience intolerance there?
When I went to school, I tried out for the University of Hawaii men’s soccer team. They had tryouts at five in the morning, and by 5:15 I was walking back home. During the warm-ups the head coach pulls me aside, says he doesn’t want to put his players in an awkward position. I didn’t even get to the tryout process to show them how good I was. I got home, cried my eyes out, and went on with my day. I knew I was better than them anyway.