Leyna Bloom, first trans woman of color in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue: ‘I have to really make sure that I’m not the last.’

·4 min read

In July, Leyna Bloom will become the first transgender woman to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

The responsibility of being the first is one that Bloom doesn’t take lightly.

“I would sit and talk to a lot of people who were the first to do things. One of the people was Tyra banks,” Bloom tells Yahoo Life. “The best advice she gave me is the best advice I just live by every day. There will never be another first. You just honestly have to know that everything that you do from today on has to be for the bigger picture.”

The year 2021 is shaping up to be a big one for Bloom. The model and actress appeared in the final season of Pose, and she is starring in her first feature film, Port Authority, which premiered in 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival. That's where Bloom became the first trans woman of color in a leading role in the festival's history. Now available on Prime Video, the movie tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a woman entrenched in Harlem’s voguing ballroom scene.

“I think for me it was to really anchor the idea that a trans woman can love, a trans woman can be loved," says Bloom.

Leyna Bloom and Fionn Whitehead in the film 'Port Authority' (Photo: Momentum Pictures)
Leyna Bloom and Fionn Whitehead in the film Port Authority. (Photo: Momentum Pictures)

Historically in Hollywood, many stories featuring transgender characters show them in a negative or problematic light. Since 2002, GLADD as been cataloging episodes of shows featuring trans storylines and found that transgender characters were negatively portrayed about 51 percent of the time. At least 40 percent of the time, trans characters were cast in a "victim" role.

Bloom says she wanted to be a part of a film that showed joy, love and community.

“Me in the world being adored is something that is very unfamiliar territory for a lot of people to even admit or talk about or really sit down and have a conversation with. It’s done in such a beautiful way that is very human to us all. It’s rooted in love and finding a connection to yourself and outside worlds,” says Bloom.

Bloom, who is both Black and Filipino, was raised in Chicago, and nurtured her love of performing at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. She says that she was a dancer who could pose well, and soon found herself auditioning for modeling jobs. Despite her natural talent, Bloom’s excitement quickly diminished when she started to feel pushback from the industry.

“They put me in my first runway show and there was immediately a lot of discrimination,” says Bloom. “It was just no protection, a lot of disrespect, a lot of misgendering.”

“It was hard at first, but I’m glad I went through that so the next generation doesn’t have to,” says Bloom.

Despite the setbacks, Bloom was steadfast. She eventfully found a photographer who saw her potential, and it wasn’t long before she landed her first magazine cover. In 2017, Bloom became the first openly transgender woman of color to appear in Vogue India.

While her path had its bumps, Bloom says she found a greater purpose by pushing through barriers. “I think for me, my responsibility has always been to take my visibility and the visibility of trans liveness into every experience and every type of room around the world. I think that’s what I can do,” says Bloom.

(Photo: Getty)
Leyna Bloom attends TrevorLIVE LA event (Photo: Getty Images)

In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign documented at least 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people were were murdered — the majority of whom were Black or Latinx. Bloom says that her intersectionality is something she is proud to make visible.

“As a woman, as a woman of color, as a trans woman, I’m literally a walking vessel of everything that is being erased in the world," she says. "Being a part of shows is a moment for me to just live and to be seen by the world, because for so many years, I have been erased from the human race.”

From education and speaking to writing and telling stories, Bloom embraces every moment to live fully and in her truth. She wants to be seen. She wants to take up space. And she wants others to know that they can do the same. 

“It’s time for me to really understand that I was born in a world I did not fit into, so I’m creating one that I do,” Bloom says. “ And that’s why I feel like it’s such a responsibility for me. Because being the first, I have to really make sure that I’m not the last.”

Port Authority is now available on VOD and Digital platforms.

Produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

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