Coach Kaig Lightner: “Everybody is welcome”. Building a Safe Space for Youth Soccer and Personal Acceptance

Senda Team

In a society where acceptance and inclusion can still be a struggle, Kaig Lightnerfounder and coach of the Portland Community Football Club (P.C.F.C.), faced a moment of uncertainty. He stood before his players, a diverse group of mostly first- and second-generation immigrant youth, and mustered the courage to reveal a deeply personal truth about himself. This blog post explores Lightner's inspiring journey as a transgender man, his dedication to creating a safe space for young athletes, and the powerful impact his honesty had on his team.

At Senda, we believe in fostering inclusivity, diversity, and respect for all athletes. Together with Portland Community Football Club we created a custom uniform that represents everyone in the team. If you want to work side by side with us creating a one and only uniform don’t hesitate to ask.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

Kaig Lightner, formerly known as Katherine Jean Lightner, grew up feeling a sense of unease and discomfort in his own body. From a young age, he knew he was a boy trapped in a girl's body. Throughout his adolescence, Lightner faced bullying and struggled with feelings of not belonging. However, sports became his refuge, providing a space where he could be judged solely based on his performance. After rowing crew at the University of Washington, Lightner moved to Portland and started coaching soccer for children in the city's wealthier communities.

A Vision of Inclusivity

After transitioning and changing his name to Kaig, Lightner returned to coaching with a renewed purpose. He saw a lack of sports opportunities for the working-class immigrant children in Portland's diverse neighborhoods and wanted to make a difference. In 2013, Lightner founded the Portland Community Football Club, a program that aimed to teach soccer skills while providing mentorship and a safe space for growth. With grant funding and equipment donations, the club ensured that everyone had a place to play, regardless of their financial situation.

A Moment of Honesty and Acceptance

For years, Lightner had been open about being a transgender man to everyone in his life except his players and their families. He carried a sense of dissonance and knew he needed to address it. On a rainy day in 2017, Lightner gathered his players before practice and shared his truth. He assured them that despite his gender identity, he was still the same person who cared deeply about their development as soccer players and individuals. To his relief and joy, he was met with unwavering acceptance and understanding.

The Impact of Authenticity

Lightner's revelation strengthened the bond between him and his players. Shema Jacques, one of P.C.F.C.'s early stalwarts, expressed how Lightner's story resonated with many of the players who had also experienced feelings of not being accepted. The club continued to flourish, growing in size and expanding its impact beyond soccer. Lightner's commitment to providing resources and support to families during the COVID-19 pandemic further solidified the P.C.F.C.'s reputation as a caring community.

Embracing Diversity

Six years after Lightner's courageous disclosure, the Portland Community Football Club thrives. More coaches have joined the team, and the club's registered player roster has grown to 165. The P.C.F.C. has become more than just a soccer program; it is a symbol of inclusivity and acceptance. Families who initially had reservations about Lightner's identity soon realized that it changed nothing. The P.C.F.C. remains a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of their background, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Kaig Lightner's personal journey as a transgender man and his dedication to building a safe space for young athletes in the Portland Community Football Club is nothing short of remarkable. By embracing his authentic self and sharing his truth, Lightner has created a powerful environment that fosters acceptance, growth, and inclusivity. His story serves as a reminder that true progress happens when we prioritize compassion and understanding, making a positive impact on the lives of those around us.

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