Second-year NBA referee Che Flores came out as trans and non-binary on Oct. 24, making them the first out trans or non-binary referees in the league.
“One piece I was missing for myself was that no one knew how I identified,” Flores said in an interview with GQ. “Being misgendered as she/her always just felt like a little jab in the gut.”
Flores discussed the behind-the-scenes process of coming out to people around the NBA, especially during the middle of last season when they recalled coming out to Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s head of referee training and development.
“He immediately just called me Che, with no problem, which just makes you feel more comfortable, and easier to let him know everything that was related to my gender,” Flores told GQ.
Che Flores spent years becoming one of basketball’s rising-star referees. Now, they say, “I feel like I have a responsibility to be who exactly I am without hiding anything.”
— GQ Sports (@GQSports) October 23, 2023
McCutchen responded positively and asked Flores for permission to notify the league’s referee operations about using they/them pronouns. Regardless of Flores’ gender identity, McCutchen emphasized that Flores was poised to climb the ranks of the referee world given their background and talent. Flores has amassed a decade of experience as a referee in the NCAA, WNBA and G-League.
“Whenever you’re committed to the level that Che is, regardless of where you work, people are going to see and find that excellence,” McCutchen told GQ.
Flores is stressing the importance of serving as a model for youth at a time when out LGBTQ people are often underrepresented or marginalized on the playing field.
“I just think of having younger queer kids look at somebody who’s on a high-profile stage and not using it,” Flores said. “And I’m not using the league to an advantage in any way. This is just to let young kids know that we can exist, we can be successful in all different ways. 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.’”
LGBTQ representation has been slow to come in the NBA, which is why it was so significant when former NBA player Jason Collins came out during the tail end of his career ahead of his retirement in 2014. In the WNBA, though, about 20% of players in the 2022 season identified as LGBTQ, according to Outsports.
“I just feel like just 100% myself now, and I just feel so light now moving around, not having to worry about anything,” Flores said. “I don’t have to worry about myself not being myself.”