‘I’m representing Filipina, I’m representing Black’: Meet Leyna Bloom, the first transgender woman of color in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

Leyna Bloom was photographed by Yu Tsai in Tampa, FL wearing Dos Gardenias. | Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

LEYNA Bloom, a Black and Filipina American model, is making history as the first transgender woman of color to grace Sports Illustrated’s famed Swimsuit Issue.

The 27-year-old model and trained dancer’s feat comes after Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio, who became the first openly transgender model to appear in the magazine’s Swimsuit Issue last year.

In an Instagram post on Tuesday, March 16, Bloom expressed her excitement over the historic milestone.

“This is what it looks like to be in full bloom… My spirit has reached new levels. This moment is bigger than my wildest infinite dreams. In this moment, I am a representation of all the communities I grew from, and all the communities I’m planting seeds in,” she wrote in her post, thanking the publication for allowing her “to showcase my heavenly form.”

“Before my feet even touched the sand, you all wanted to celebrate the temple of my body and the deepest part of my spiritual universe. Your kindness has given me so much hope in the humanity of [the] entertainment industry,” she added.


Bloom made headlines as one of the first openly transgender models on the runway at New York Fashion Week in 2017. Later that year, she appeared as the first transgender woman of color in Vogue India.

In 2018, she went viral on Twitter for campaigning to be the first trans model of color to walk the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Sampaio was later chosen to walk in the show in August 2019.

Bloom also became the first trans woman of color to headline a film at Cannes Film Festival in 2019. In “Port Authority,” directed by Danielle Lessovitz, Bloom plays a trans woman from New York’s kiki ballroom scene who falls in love with a lost drifter (Fionn Whitehead).

Bloom was  the only transgender model to walk the runway at Paris Fashion Week for Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya’s Fall/Winter collection in 2019. | Photo from Instagram/@leynabloom

She was the only transgender model to walk the runway at Paris Fashion Week for Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya’s Fall/Winter collection that same year.

Bloom told the New York Times that she was on the set for her Levi’s campaign in December when she learned that she would be in Sports Illustrated.

“I hadn’t gone to a casting, so when my agent called with the news, I felt mentally shaken. The idea that they were giving me this chance — I couldn’t take it in. Two weeks later I was on set,” she said.

According to Bloom, her feature on the publication’s Swimsuit Issue is her way of “promoting something that has been missing in the world: trans beauty in all shapes and all sizes.”

“I’m representing Filipina, I’m representing Black, I am representing people who have been immigrants. For them, I’m a vessel of change,” she told the NY Times.

For her part, Sports Illustrated’s editor MJ Day praised Bloom for her beauty and her “undeniable sense of self that shines through the minute she walks on set.”

“Leyna is legendary in the world of activism, strikingly gorgeous and has an undeniable sense of self that shines through the minute she walks on set. Her story represents one grounded in resilience and we couldn’t be more thrilled to help her tell it,” she said in a statement.

“Her presence as the first trans woman of color to be in our issue is a result of her lifetime dedication to forging her own path that has led to acceptance, love and change. She represents every person’s right to love themselves and be who they want to be,” she added.

Bloom was born and raised in Chicago to a Filipina mother, who is from General Santos, and an African American father.

In a 2019 interview with GMA News, Bloom said that she went to the Philippines to find her mother.

“I grew up Americanized since my mom was deported when I was only two years old. I was raised by my American father, but four years ago, I found my mom online. I searched everywhere. I felt there was a piece of me missing,” she said.

Bloom noted that the food in the Philippines was “amazing.”

“The people are so vibrant and welcoming. I feel so welcome in the Philippines. I feel so connected and so unique,” she added.

Ritchel Mendiola
Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

7 Comments
  1. Lovely Woman, Be Proud Of What, & Who You Are. I Definitely Have Nothing But Love, & Respect For You Leyna Bloom.

  2. Sports Illustrated is now a feminists magazine.. You don’t see it at Barber shops anymore or at the hardware store seating areas..
    I am all for empowerment but come on.. This magazine is for men who love sports and manly things.. Not a magazine for some deranged man to come out and play woman.. This is disgusting and sad.. Not everyone is for this and its sad they force it on us..

    You won’t catch me picking up any more of these magazines.. Not even to read for free.. Also he isn’t representing me as a Filipino.. He is representing the sad world of mental illness we live in now..

  3. That’s sick transgender is sin. God made man and women you are how you are when born. Any change after is sin. What a sick world, we live in today, oh come sweet Jesus.

  4. Either a penis or not at birth has determined sex for as long as any humans and I would presume most animal types have been brought into the world. Sad commentary of how some now think otherwise!

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