Leyna Bloom was celebrated as the first trans woman of color to appear in an issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit when the model was announced as a 2021 rookie of the magazine back in March. But just four months later, Bloom is taking the world by storm as the first trans woman to ever grace the cover of the magazine — an honor that she credits to women of marginalized communities that blazed the trail before her.
“I can live freely. I can live out in the open. The trans models and the trans bodies that have been in the entertainment business could not do that. They had to hide who they were so they can just eat, so they can just have a dream,” Bloom tells Yahoo Life. “Knowing that history of where I come from, on the shoulders that I’m standing on, I have to do my part. I have to pay homage. I have to remind them. And that’s exactly what I did when I received the call that I was on Sports Illustrated.”
The 27-year-old spoke to the importance of her inclusion in the magazine when she teased her appearance in its pages. She explains that she even called the trans women and men who paved the way to thank them for an opportunity like this. Still, she didn’t yet know that she’d be representing her many identities on the magazine’s iconic cover.
“I am an embodiment of many different intersections of life,” Bloom says, noting that she is a trans woman of Black and Asian descent. “When we put our phones down and we go out in the world, you see police brutality on the backs of Black and brown bodies. You see Asian people being hurt, being bullied, being harassed. You see trans bodies showing up in alleys dead, you know, it’s cold case after cold case. These are very, very serious topics. And when you take someone that represents all of that and say, we’re putting this person on the cover, because this is what we think is important, not just beautiful, it really allows us to know that there is still good in the world.”
And while she cannot solely represent each of these marginalized communities, Bloom makes sure to do her part in giving them a voice.
“I’m so lucky to have the privilege, and I am very privileged to have this opportunity because other trans bodies in the world do not have the same privilege I have,” she says. “They might not be able to have the conversation, but the fact that I’m there, I have to speak up for them. And I have to make sure that people understand that we are here and we deserve these opportunities, and I am so lucky to be born in a time when I can do that. It’s monumental what we can do with this opportunity.”
Bloom also embraces the opportunity to open the hearts and minds of people around the world to the transgender community.
“Honestly, me walking outside and me just being unapologetically myself makes people very nervous and that’s OK. There are things in this world that make me nervous, but they’re here. They have purpose and they deserve to be respected. And if you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else,” she says. “I’m here to just invite you to think differently. I’m here to give you an opportunity for you to just take a second out of your life, to just look left or look right. And if you don’t like what you see, you can turn your eye and that’s all I need.”
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit‘s editor-in-chief MJ Day tells Yahoo Life that Bloom’s inclusion in the 2021 issue titled “Opening Eyes, Speaking Truths, Changing Minds” is meant to do just that.
“Leyna is one of the most incredibly kind, caring, patient, invested, compassionate human beings,” Day says. “I don’t know how much middle America has ever had the opportunity to meet someone as special as her. And once they do, they’re going to see what’s so great about her.”
Bloom adds, “In 50 years I want to look back and say, ‘This is when the world changed. And this was a moment that changed it in some way, shape or form. This was one of the moments that changed the world. It changed the way people thought.'”
And while it’s just the beginning of what’s to come for trans representation, Bloom is full of hope.
“I see happiness, I see opportunity. I see that I come from a rich history of rich bloodlines full of people that are breathing through me and I want to make them proud,” she says. “This is why I do what I do.”
Read more from Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.