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Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue Has A Trans Model On The Cover For The 1st Time

Model and actress Leyna Bloom has become the first trans woman to appear on the cover of <em>Sports Illustrated</em>'s swimsuit issue.
Francois Durand
Getty Images
Model and actress Leyna Bloom has become the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.

Model and actress Leyna Bloom has become the first trans person to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, the magazine's most famous and perennially bestselling edition.

"I dedicate this cover to all ballroom femme queens past, present and future," Bloom wrote on Instagram. "Many girls like us don't have the chance to live our dreams, or to live long at all. I hope my cover empowers those, who are struggling to be seen, feel valued."

The 27-year-old's star turn on the Sports Illustrated cover is just the latest on a growing list of barriers she's broken since she came out in 2014: one of the first trans women to walk the runway at Paris Fashion Week, the first trans woman of color to star in a film at the Cannes Film Festival, and the first trans woman to grace the pages of Vogue India.

"This moment heals a lot of pain in the world. We deserve this moment; we have waited millions of years to show up as survivors and be seen as full humans filled with wonder," Bloom tweeted.

Three women of color will appear on the cover this year

Bloom appears on one of three swimsuit covers this year, joining tennis star Naomi Osaka and rapper Megan Thee Stallion. All three are women of color: Bloom identifies as Black and Filipina. Osaka is biracial, with a Japanese mother and Haitian father. And Megan Thee Stallion is Black.

Osaka and Megan Thee Stallion are making history as well: Osaka as the first Black athlete, and Megan Thee Stallion as the first rapper, to appear in the issue.

Sports Illustrated has worked in recent years to make its swimsuit issues more inclusive. First published in 1964, the magazine didn't feature a Black cover model until Tyra Banks won a spot in 1996.

Last year, the magazine featured a trans model, Valentina Sampaio, inside the issue for the first time. In 2019, Sports Illustrated featured Halima Aden, a Muslim model who wore a hijab and burkini, alongside soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who was the first openly gay woman to appear in the issue.

"I have dreamt a million beautiful dreams, but for girls like me, most dreams are just fanciful hopes in a world that often erases and omits our history and even existence," Bloom wrote on Instagram in March when Sports Illustrated announced her inclusion in the swimsuit issue.

The milestone comes amid new bans for trans athletes

The magazine's decision to feature Bloom comes as Republican-led state legislatures have moved to ban trans girls and women from competing on girls' and women's sports teams. At least nine states have enacted such bans, though they face legal challenges.

"It's so much going on in sports alone with gender identity and trans women trying to be in sports. But to have a trans woman as a symbol of beauty in swimsuits on a beach in comparison to other icons, like Tyra Banks and Giselle and Heidi Klum, it's a testament of what's happening right now in the world and what's going to happen in the future," Bloom said in an interview with Variety.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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