Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio becomes first transgender Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model

Brazilian transgender model Valentina Sampaio walks the runway at Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio walks the runway at Sao Paulo Fashion Week in March 2017.
(Andre Penner / Associated Press)

Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio has been blazing trails for years. Now, she’s set to become the first openly transgender model to be featured in Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit issue.

The 23-year-old was selected as a 2020 model for the July 21 issue.

“Being trans usually means facing closed doors to people’s hearts and minds,” she wrote on Instagram. “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.”

Sampaio praised her homeland as a “beautiful country” but said it is deadly as well, with “the highest number of violent crimes and murders against the trans community in the world — three times that of the U.S.”


Of Dutch, African and Indigenous (Amazonian) descent, Sampaio hails from what she refers to as a “remote, humble fishing village in northern Brazil.” From there, she went on to appear on the cover of Vogue Paris in March 2017 as the first openly transgender model to do so in any edition of the magazine.

In 2019, she became the first openly transgender model hired by Victoria’s Secret. That announcement came less than a year after Ed Razek, Victoria’s Secret former chief marketing officer, sparked an outcry over his comment that “transsexuals” would not be cast in the brand’s annual fashion show.

Sampaio is joining forces with a changing Sports Illustrated Swimsuit that brought the world its diversity issue in 2019. Today, she went live in an Instagram interview with LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD.

“Sports Illustrated Swimsuit joins institutions from the Girl Scouts of the USA to Miss Universe in recognizing the simple fact that trans women are women,” said Anthony Ramos, the group’s head of talent, in an email. “Talented women like Valentina Sampaio deserve to be spotlighted and given equal opportunities. Her work in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is a significant step forward as the modeling industry continues its evolution on traditional standards of inclusion.”