Che Flores becomes first out trans non-binary referee in US pro sports: ‘I feel one hundred percent myself now’ 

An NBA referee has made history as the first publicly out trans non-binary referee in professional sports in the United States. 

Che Flores, a second-year staff referee for the National Basketball League, came out publicly on Monday (23 October), in a profile for GQ Sports

Flores is an accomplished referee, having worked at least 1,000 games in their 14 year career which has seen them referee in three countries and oversee championship and college competitions. 

They are also believed to be the first person to have worked championship games for the NCAA, G League, and WNBA. 

Flores made the decision to come to their more than 70-colleagues at the NBA referees’ annual preseason meetings in September, a move which allowed them to present themselves more authentically. 

“When I started refereeing, you had to look a certain way,” Flores told the magazine. 

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“This is the first time I’m comfortable expressing myself through my own fashion and not having to worry about it. I feel one hundred percent myself now.”

Flores explained that when they became an NBA official in 2022 the pronouns and language used around their appointment was alienating, as they had privately identified as trans for a couple of years. 

Flores said: “One piece I was missing for myself was that no one knew how I identified. Being misgendered as she/her always just felt like a little jab in the gut.” 

Since coming out, the referee “can go through the world and even my job a lot more comfortably”. 

Referee Che Flores (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Flores coming out comes at a time when trans inclusion in sport is under threat, with sporting bodies, politicians and anti-trans groups seeking to ban trans adults and youth from taking part in sports both professionally and for fun. 

In recent months, Badminton England, World Cycling and the Welsh Rugby Union are just some of the many sporting bodies which have taken steps to ban trans women from the female category. 

Even more controversially, even the International Chess Federation (FIDE) officially banned registered trans women from participating in women’s events in August, a move which was described as “insulting to cis women, to trans women, and to the game itself”.

In America specifically, there has been a wave of anti-trans legislation in states across the country which bar trans young people from playing in school sports teams which align with their gender – effectively meaning trans youth cannot take part in sports they enjoy authentically.  

For Flores, they hope coming out and being visible in sport will “let young kids know that we can exist, we can be successful in all different ways”. 

They added: “For me, that is most important—to just be a face that somebody can be like, Oh, okay, that person exists. I think I can do that.”