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Jaiya Saelua
Pua Tofaeono

Jaiyah T. Saelua

Jaiyah T. Saelua

Meet one of the artists, disruptors, educators, groundbreakers, innovators, and storytellers who all helped make the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people.

Jaiyah T. Saelua is a history-making soccer player who first made her debut with the American Samoa men’s national soccer team in 2006 at age 15. Saelua is a fa’afafine — a person who identifies as a third gender in Samoan culture. In 2011 FIFA recognized her as the first out transgender person to compete in one of its tournaments.

Saelua was a major part of the American Samoa team when it pushed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. In a game against Tonga that year, the team won 2-1, with Saelua being named Woman of the Match by her coach. The game made her the first out transgender player to appear in a World Cup qualifying match.

Saelua continues to play professionally for the American Samoa team while also serving as a FIFA ambassador for LGBTQ+ athletes. After 20 years of soccer, she plans to retire as an athlete next year and pursue administrative work in the Oceania region. She was also invited to serve as an ambassador to the Rainbow Games in New Zealand.

This year she is proud to have been invited by FIFA’s president to the FIFA Women’s Football Convention and the FIFA Women’s World Cup final match. “Of the more than 800 delegates at the convention, I was the only transgender woman in attendance,” she notes. “After the final match, President Infantino invited me to a special ceremony at his hotel, where he and Secretary Fatma Samoura inducted me into the FIFA Legends class, making me the first and only transgender FIFA Legend.”

Part of her life story will appear in Taika Waititi’s new film Next Goal Wins, which chronicles the journey of the American Samoa team toward the 2014 World Cup. It comes out November in theaters nationwide. Now a whole new generation of trans athletes will know Saelua’s story. @jaiyahsaelua

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