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“I was born to be on the cover”: Leyna Bloom talks about making Sports Illustrated history

Leyna Bloom, the first transgender cover model for Sports Illustrated’s celebrated Swimsuit Issue, says she was born to be on the cover and believes it is a moment that will change the world.

In March, Bloom became the first transgender woman of color and the second transgender model ever to be featured in the Swimsuit Issue. Bloom was then announced as one of the cover stars in July, alongside rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who made history as the first female rapper, and tennis star Naomi Osaka, the first Haitian and Japanese woman athlete.

“I knew that the responsibility of this was about to change my life,” Bloom told CBSN. “I never thought I would get it.”

First published in 1964, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue didn’t feature a Black cover model until Tyra Banks won a spot in 1996. The decision to feature Bloom, by a magazine which caters to a demographic of readers who are largely cisgender and straight men, comes as dozens of anti-transgender proposals move through state legislatures across the country.

“It’s time to bring all your best humans forward to have moments,” Bloom said. “I just want to make my community proud, make America proud, and show the world something new and give them a peek into the future.”

Sports Illustrated cover with Leyna Bloom
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue featuring cover model Leyna Bloom, on sale July 22, 2021. More at swimsuit.si.com.

Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated


The 30-year-old model is part of a diverse ballroom community filled with dancers, designers and many others immersed in imagination and creativity. It’s a community that has even helped her through homelessness when she moved to New York City as a teenager. Today she works to ensure her community is not erased.

“I just want to bring a face to this community,” Bloom explains. “I wanted to represent my community and not just sensationalize it or fetishize it and that’s rooted in every single thing I do. How can I get out there and be the representation I want to see in the world?”

When entering the industry, Bloom said she understood that there would be people who would accept her and others who would refuse to accept her for who she is. But then there are also those who may fall in the middle and not know what to think or feel.

“I always want to target myself to that audience,” Bloom told CBSN. “I just want them to know, hey, if you give me a chance to sit down and have a conversation with you regardless of if you agree or disagree, we’re humans and communicating, and that is all that is. The most important thing is communication.”

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