A high-profile Israeli referee has come out as transgender, making her only the second-ever openly trans official to referee a match in the world.
Sapir Berman, 26, became the first transgender woman to referee a match in the Israeli Premier League when she oversaw a game on Monday between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa.
Berman was met with support from players and football organisations after publicising her transition before the match. “This is the first step in a long and wonderful journey,” the Israel Football Association tweeted. “Sapir, we are proud to do it with you."
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Berman has received support from players who use the correct gender when addressing her on the pitch.
“They really feel that they want to somehow take part in this process,” said Berman, “and speak to me as a woman. So thank you."
Berman is not the first referee to come out as transgender in a sport often plagued with anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Lucy Clark, a British referee, was the first trans woman to come out in the sport in 2018. Clarke has worked as a referee in various low-level leagues since openly transitioning.
Football’s battle with anti-LGBTQ sentiment and specifically homophobia has been ongoing. According to a Stonewall survey from 2016, 72 percent of football fans have overheard homophobic abuse at UK events, with 59 percent of people believing that anti-LGBTQ sentiment in football is a problem. There are currently no openly gay, bisexual or transgender players in the top four leagues of men’s football in England. In women’s football, however, there are many high-profile lesbian players.
Jeffrey Ingold, head of media engagement at Stonewall said: “It’s wonderful to see Sapir Berman stepping out onto the pitch as her authentic self. Sapir’s story sends an extremely powerful message and will no doubt give others the confidence to be themselves in football. We know from our research that attitudes in sport need to change before everyone feels free to be themselves; Sapir’s decision to speak out is part of that change.”
“Role models like Sapir can inspire young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people by letting them know they are not alone, can feel proud in their identity,” he said, “and help create a more inclusive culture in sport.”