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This transgender soccer referee just made sports history in Israel

Sapir Berman officiated her first game this week since coming out as transgender.

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Sapir Berman says she always felt like a woman, even at a young age.
Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Sapir Berman has officiated many games in her career as an official for Israel’s Premier League. But none were more memorable than her most recent outing.

When Berman walked onto the field for the playoff match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa, she became the first transgender person to officiate a soccer game in Israel. The momentous occasion came one week after she had publicly come out as transgender.

“Finally, I decided to come out, to show [the world] who I am,” Berman told reporters, via the New York Daily News. “First for myself, for my own well-being, but also for my loved ones, so they wouldn’t see me suffering.”

Berman, 26, said she’s always viewed herself as a woman — even as society was telling her otherwise.

“I was a successful man,” she said, via Reuters. “Whether in the referees’ union or in school or with girls. But when I was alone, I was a woman. And I separated between these worlds because I understood that society will not accept me.”

Berman is one of two publicly out transgender referees in professional soccer. Lucy Clark, a British official, came out in 2018.

After the game, Berman said players respected her identity as a woman.

“There are players that already speak to me as a female,” she said, per CBS News. “They really feel that they want to somehow take part in this process and even speak to me when it’s not necessary and speak to me as a woman. So, thank you.”

It’s been a brutal year for transgender athletes, with five states — Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia — enacting laws that ban transgender kids from joining sports teams that match their gender identity. Similar bans have also cleared at least one legislative chamber in Florida, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas.

Idaho’s ban on transgender athletes, which was halted last year, is now in the hands of a 3-judge panel.

Given the environment, Berman’s achievement is especially noteworthy, and important to recognize. Hate may be spreading in state houses, but there’s love to be found on the field.