Che Flores Becomes NBA’s First Openly Non-binary Trans Referee
Che Flores is the NBA’s first openly non-binary trans official. Flores, who has been officiating full-time in the league since 2022, revealed their identity to colleagues during preseason meetings in September.
Flores told GQ it was essential to openly represent because of the impact it could have on others.
“One piece I was missing for myself was that no one knew how I identified,” the basketball expert explained. “Being misgendered as she/her always just felt like a little jab in the gut. I can go through the world and even my job a lot more comfortably. I just think of having younger queer kids look at somebody who’s on a high-profile stage and not using it. 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.”
Flores is the first non-binary trans official in any major American professional sport.
They started refereeing high school games at their father’s request following graduation from Cal State Northridge. At first, Flores balked at being a referee but decided to try it.
Flores told GQ, “Once I was on the court, I fell in love with it.”
Eventually they would make their way to the Wubble (the bubble for WNBA players at IMG Academy in Florida), where they made connections that got them into summer referee camps. Flores shared their impression of the camps with GQ: “We would come in, and then every referee would assess every other referee, and we would all decide collectively who would move on and who would literally get voted off the island. It was like ‘Survivor’ with referees.”
Flores flourished in the Wubble, mastering several sets of rules in one calendar year, which veteran referee Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling described to the magazine, saying, “I mean, our [NBA] rule book is 70 pages long, and it’s written by lawyers. It’s not easy reading. You take that combined with the NCAA women’s rules, which are different also than NCAA men’s rules, which are different [from the G League’s and WNBA’s rules]—being able to do all of that within one calendar year just really speaks to [Che’s] intelligence and mental nimbleness.”
The league will also look to Flores as the standard-bearer for the NBA and how they address any security concerns that come up.
Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s head of referee training and development, told GQ, “To some degree, we’re going to have to grow in this area together. Che will have to be the communicator to let us know when and where they are feeling these kinds of issues.”
The referee, who has a 14-year career history, worked championship games at all levels, from the women’s NCAA National Championship to the G-League Finals to the WNBA Finals.