Sports Illustrated will feature Valentina Sampaio in its annual swimsuit issue, making her the first trans model to be featured in the long-running magazine. Sampaio was named 2020 Rookie of the Year and is no stranger to making headlines — she was hired as Victoria’s Secret’s first trans model last year and was the first trans model to grace the cover of an edition of Vogue (she was featured in Vogue Paris).
“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 said in a statement to Vogue. “I am excited and honored to be part [of this].”
The Brazilian-born Sampaio has long been vocal in her support of the LGBTQ+ — and specifically the trans — community in her home country. Now, given her new platform, Sampaio has penned a letter for Sports Illustrated that looks at the model’s past and present as well as her future.
“I was born trans in a remote, humble fishing village in northern Brazil,” the letter begins. “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.”
According to reports compiled by the National Association of Travestis and Trans People (Antra), there were a confirmed 124 murders of trans people in Brazil in 2019. In the first semester of 2020 (January-March), the organization reported 89 murders of trans people in Brazil — a staggering 39 percent increase from last year.
“Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds,” Sampaio’s letter continues. “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.
“I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can,” she adds.