Meet Valentina Sampaio, Sports Illustrated’s First Trans Model


Valentina Sampaio breaks barriers once again.

She’s the first trans woman to be on Vogue Paris’ cover. Then, she was the first openly transgender model hired by Victoria’s Secret. Now, the 23-year-old model is the first transgender woman featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

SI named Sampaio one of this edition’s 2020 “rookies” and models a white one-piece by Haus of Pink Lemonaid and a shimmery taupe bikini by Triangl.


Sports Illustrated (SI) is a respected brand in the modeling world. Since its launch 56 years ago, the swimsuit issue has featured some of the industry’s most successful names. Sampaio joins the elite ranks alongside queens like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks.

In Sampaio’s Words

In an open essay on what it means to be part of SI, Sampaio praised the magazine. She extolled them for creating another issue that champions “a diverse set of multitalented, beautiful women in a creative and dignified way.” She added that she is “excited and honored” to take part. While it means a lot to her to model for SI, the significance for the LGBTQ+ community inspires Sampaio more.

Sampaio comes from a fishing village in northern Brazil. She’s used her platform to fight for transgender rights. Sampaio says that the beauty of her home country contrasts the brutal crimes against the transgender community. To clarify, Sampaio stated in a previous interview with Vogue that 129 transgender people were murdered in Brazil.

A quote from her on the subject: “Our protection comes from God. Even with the new laws, people don’t widely respect and comply with them, and the authorities aren’t enforcing them either.”

Sampaio’s success as a model has not been easy. She’s been fighting a long battle against discrimination.  Yet, she knows that the progress she’s made also gives her the opportunity to make a positive difference. Also, Sampaio believes she must stand up for Brazil’s trans population.

“I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones,” she writes in SI, “and my intention is to honor that as best I can.”


Strides for the Trans Community

In recent years, transgender models have been gaining visibility. They have landed “firsts” in magazine covers, beauty campaigns and spots on the runway. These models also share their personal journeys to the public.

For Sampaio, change means leading by example and spreading love and acceptance one person at a time. 

Lastly, Sampaio ended her essay, with gratitude.

“Thank you, SI, for seeing and respecting me as I truly am. For understanding that more than anything, I am human. Thank you for supporting me in continuing to spread a message of love, compassion and unity for ALL.”

Read about Jari Jones, a transqueer actress, activist, and model that fronted Calvin Klein’s newest Pride campaign.

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