The 23-year-old hopes this milestone sheds a light on the challenges members of the LGBTQIA+ community face in her home country, Brazil.
Last year, Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue — known for, well, featuring scantily-clad models — shattered expectations by featuring Halima Aden in a hijab and burkini, a first in its history. The 2020 edition brings about another first, with the casting of Valentina Sampaio, the first transgender model to grace the issue's coveted pages.
The 23-year-old Brazilian has already checked off a lot of firsts for the trans community — namely, when she worked with Victoria's Secret last August and when she covered Vogue Paris in 2017. She will make her debut in Sports Illustrated as one of eight "Rookies," alongside Lorena Duran, Kim Riekenberg, Brooks Nader, Marquita Pring, Anita Marshall, Hyunjoo Hwang and Jospehine Skriver.
Sampaio told Vogue that she hopes her Sports Illustrated feature sheds a light on the challenges members of the LGBTQIA people face in her home country. "Brazil is a beautiful country, but it also hosts the highest number of violent crimes and murders against the trans community globally — three times that of the U.S.," she told the magazine. "Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples' hearts and minds."
Her activism played a role in convincing Sports Illustrated editor MJ Day to feature Sampaio in this year's lineup. "We are deeply moved that Valentina was willing to put her trust in us," said Day, to Vogue. “We didn't think twice about wanting to amplify her voice and message and give her a platform to advocate from on behalf of her personal aspirations and the trans community."
The 2020 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue hits newsstands on July 21.