Leyna Bloom on being the first trans woman of color in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue

In July, Leyna Bloom will be the first transgender woman to appear in the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit issue, and the responsibility of being the first is one that Bloom doesn’t take lightly.

“I would sit and talk to a lot of people who were the first to do things. One of the people was Tyra banks,” Bloom told Yahoo Life. “The best advice she gave me is the best advice I just live by every day. There will never be another first. You just honestly have to know that everything that you do from today on has to be for the bigger picture.”

The model and actress will also appear in the final season of Pose, and she is starring in her first feature film. The film, Port Authority, premiered in 2019 and made Bloom the first trans woman of color to lead a film at Cannes Film Festival. Now available on Prime Video, the movie tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a woman entrenched in Harlem’s voguing ballroom scene.

Historically in Hollywood, many stories featuring transgender characters show them in a negative or problematic light. Since 2002, GLADD as been cataloging episodes of shows featuring trans storylines and found that transgender characters were negatively portrayed about 51% of the time. At least 40% of the time, trans characters were cast in a "victim" role.

Bloom says she wanted to be a part of a film that showed joy, love, and community.

“Me in the world being adored is something that is very unfamiliar territory for a lot of people to even admit or talk about or really sit down and have a conversation with. It’s done in such a beautiful way that is very human to us all. It’s rooted in love and finding a connection to yourself and outside worlds,” says Bloom.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

LEYNA BLOOM: As a woman, as woman, of color, as a trans woman, I'm literally a walking vessel of everything that is being erased in the world. Being part of shows is a moment for me to just live and to honestly be seen by the world because, for so many years, I have been erased from the human race.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey, everyone. I'm Brittany Jones-Cooper, and in this episode of "Unmuted," I'm chatting with Leyna Bloom. The trans model and actress continues to break down barriers, and is an outspoken advocate for trans rights and representation. Take me through those early years. How did you break into modeling?

LEYNA BLOOM: I went to a high school called the Chicago Academy of the Arts, and I got a full scholarship to go there. And I was a dancer that could pose really good. I was looking for auditions in Chicago. It put me in my first runway show, and then, like immediately, a lot of discrimination. And some things I'll just never forget is just like, people would say, give up. Trans this, and oh, queer this. It was just no protection. It was a lot of disrespect. It was a lot of misgendering.

And I worked with this really amazing photographer who took a chance on me, and next thing you know, I was shooting for a cover of a magazine. It was hard at first, but I'm glad I went through that so the next generation doesn't have to.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Yeah, and one way that you're really using your platform is by using your career, by being there, by being the representation. In your new movie Port Authority, you're the first trans woman of color to lead a feature film at the Cannes Film Festival. Your character is a trans woman who falls in love. So why was it so important for you to portray that romantic experience on screen?

LEYNA BLOOM: I think for me, it was to really anchor the idea that a trans woman can love. A trans woman can be loved. And it really owns in the idea that that's very real. You know, the idea that me in the world being adored is something that is very unfamiliar territory for a lot of people to even admit, or talk about, or really sit down and have a conversation with. It's done in such a beautiful way that is very human to us all. It's rooted in love. It's rooted in finding a connection with yourself and finding connection with outside worlds.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You know, the trans community is publicly fighting so many battles. What are some of the priorities that you have in elevating trans issues?

LEYNA BLOOM: I think for me, my responsibility has always been to take my visibility and take the visibility of trans Blackness into every type of experience and every type of room around the world. I think that's what I can do. And anything from educating to speaking to writing stories to telling stories to being part of TV shows is a moment for me to just live and be seen front and center finally. So it's time for me to really understand that I was born in a world I did not fit into, so I'm creating one that I do.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Yeah, I notice that you never hesitate to talk about your own journey as a trans woman of color. And there have been so many firsts in your career. You're the first trans woman of color in the "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue" that's coming out in July. How do you handle that responsibility?

LEYNA BLOOM: You know, I would sit and talk to a lot of people that were the first to do things-- one of the people, Tyra Banks. The best advice she gave me is the best advice that I just live by every day. There will never be another first. You've just got to honestly know that everything that you do from today on has to be for the bigger picture. You know, for everyone. This is the moment. This is the platform that you have. This is the responsibility you have at this moment in history. So just remember what you're doing this for, and stay true to that. And that's why I feel like it's such a responsibility for me because being the first, I have to really make sure that I'm not the last person.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I want to thank you for sharing your work and your beauty with the world, and congrats on all of your success. Thanks for joining us.