For the first time in the 56-year history of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, the annual special edition will feature a trans model: Valentina Sampaio. The 23-year-old Brazilian-born model previously made history by starring on the cover of French Vogue’s March 2017 issue, and later, in 2019, as Victoria’s Secret’s first-ever trans model.
But the model hasn’t always experienced the kind of acceptance and praise that she’s garnering now. In an essay written by Sampaio for the issue, she shared her story of being born in a remote fishing village in Brazil, where trans people are subject to the world’s highest rate of violent crimes and murders — “three times that of the U.S.” “Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds,” she wrote. “We face snickers, insults, fearful reactions and physical violations just for existing.”
For these reasons and so many more, Sampaio’s inclusion in this year’s swimsuit edition is monumental. “Thank you SI for seeing and respecting me as I truly am,” she wrote. “For understanding that more than anything, I am human. Thank you for supporting me in continuing to spread a message of love, compassion and unity for ALL.”
Despite this being the first time that Sports Illustrated has included a trans model in the edition, it isn’t the Swimsuit Issue’s first historic casting. In fact, it’s, in part, responsible for catapulting the career of model Ashley Graham who, in 2016, became the Swimsuit Issue’s first-ever plus-size model. The magazine also selected model Halima Aden — who wore a hijab and burkini during her SI shoot — for its 2019 issue.
This move by Sports Illustrated arrives following calls for justice for the trans community. In May, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, was shot and killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida. At the time, McDade was the 11th reported trans and/or gender non-confirming death by shooting of the year. A month later, news followed of the murder of a Black trans woman named Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells in Philadelphia. A few days later, people gathered together in Brooklyn to honor Black trans lives, with nearly everyone in attendance wearing white.
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