VICE News interviews Jaiyah Saelua, the first transgender athlete to play in a World Cup qualifier

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.

Read the full interview at VICE News.

Related Stories

 

GLAAD Southern Stories will elevate the experiences of LGBT people in six of the nation's southern states. The initiative amplifies stories of LGBT people thriving in the South, ongoing discrimination, as well as the everyday indignities endured by LGBT people who simply wish to live the lives they love, including stories of family, stories of faith, stories of sports, and stories of patriotism