Valentina Sampaio has made history as the first transgender model to pose for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The 23-year-old Brazilian’s participation in the annual issue was revealed Friday, with the model opening up about the trailblazing opportunity. “I am excited and honored to be part of the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue,” she posted on Instagram along with a shot from the SI shoot. “The team at SI has created yet another groundbreaking issue by bringing together a diverse set of multitalented, beautiful women in a creative and dignified way.”
Sampaio went on to open up about her experience growing up and being trans. “I was born trans in a remote, humble fishing village in northern Brazil,” her Instagram caption continued. “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 U.S. Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds. We face snickers, insults, fearful reactions and physical violations just for existing. Our options for growing up in a loving and accepting family, having a fruitful experience at school or finding dignified work are unimaginably limited and challenging.”
Though she’s thrilled at the doors that have opened to her recently, Sampaio has faced discrimination in her professional life. “I had a high profile modeling job where once they realized I was trans on set, I was suddenly fired,” she told Good Morning America on Friday. “It’s hard but you have to keep strong.” That’s what makes the Sports Illustrated opportunity such “a dream,” she says. “Not just for myself but to all the LGBTQ+ community.”
If you want to support LGBTQ youth, consider donating to GLSEN, which promotes anti-bullying initiatives and gay-straight alliances in schools nationwide, and The Trevor Project, which operates a confidential hotline staffed by trained counselors who provide crisis-intervention and suicide-prevention services.