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Valentina Sampaio breaks new ground as the first openly trans model in Swimsuit Issue history

In a career filled with firsts, Valentina Sampaio helps Sports Illustrated embrace the trans community.

Premiere Of FOX’s “Ford V Ferrari” - Arrivals
Valentina Sampaio will again make history as the first openly transgender model to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

There has been debate for decades over whether the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue technically qualifies as “sports.” But one thing is now for certain: the 2020 edition qualifies as a barrier breaker.

This year’s edition is newsworthy because it features Valentina Sampaio, the first openly transgender model in SI Swimsuit Issue history. Hailing from “a humble fishing village in northern Brazil,” Sampaio is one of eight models selected for the iconic publication.

So it’s official: the Swimsuit Issue is more inclusive than the state of Idaho.

Sampaio is already familiar with trailblazing achievements, as last year she became Victoria’s Secret’s first-ever transgender model. Previously, Sampaio was also the first trans model to be featured on a Vogue cover with her appearance on the French edition of the fashion magazine in March of 2017.

Jean-Paul Gaultier : Details - Paris Fashion Week - Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020
Sampaio at Paris Fashion Week 2020.
Photo by SAVIKO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Her most recent appearances were in March at Paris Fashion Week (above), New York’s Fashion Week in October 2019 and walking the red carpet at the premiere of the auto racing film, Ford vs. Ferrari, in November 2019.

All of this after Sampaio was fired from her first modeling job the day that she reported to the set after the client told her they “felt it was ‘inappropriate’ for me to represent the brand because my images would be included in a catalogue ‘entering into family households.’” Now thanks to her latest “first,” Sampaio’s image will be entering more households than that client ever dreamed possible. Below, a sample from her SI photo shoot.

To commemorate her appearance in the Swimsuit Issue, Sports Illustrated gave Sampaio a spotlight to shine on her story with an “In Her Own Words” personal essay. In it, Sampaio depicted the harsh reality of being openly trans in her homeland, explaining that “Brazil is a beautiful country, but it also hosts the highest number of violent crimes and murders against the trans community in the world — three times that of the US.”

By itself, that violent crime statistic is bad enough. But Sampaio has also delved deeper to illuminate the trans community’s day-to-day plight in her homeland. As she recently explained to Vogue’s Janelle Okwodu:

“It is rare to see a transgender person have a public-facing ‘official’ job [in Brazil]...I am almost ashamed to say that I have been much more accepted outside of my own country. Much is said about us during Pride month by the media in Brazil, but they don’t let us speak for ourselves. They do not allow our voice to be directly heard on their platforms.”

To her credit, Sampaio recognized that the status afforded by her achievements has amplified her voice and she made it clear that she intends to use it. As she wrote in SI, “I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can.”

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Sampaio speaks out at Teen Vogue Summit 2019.
Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Teen Vogue

In an accompanying SI video essay, Sampaio emphasized her plans to use her elevated visibility to uplift her community:

“I am excited and honored to be part of the iconic Swimsuit Issue. They see the person and the woman who I am. I want that one day, this is not important, that this is not new. I feel strong and I feel inspired to fight not just for me, but for everyone that I represent.”

It’s clear that Sampaio has taken on the social responsibility that comes with her status as a trailblazer. Here’s hoping we hear from her as much as possible when the Swimsuit Issue is released on July 21st.