Leyna Bloom has been making waves in the fashion world. The Filipina-African American model entered the industry at 18, and since that moment she’s walked several high-profile runways during New York Fashion Week. But now, the stunning model has made history by becoming the first transgender woman of color to be featured in Vogue India.
In this past October issue of the magazine, Leyna has an entire page to herself where she is decked out in a Prada two-piece outfit. On another page she is featured among several models. You can see in the caption, the magazine incorrectly identifies Leyna as Geena Rocero. Rocero is another Filipina trans fashion model.
Despite the mix up, Leyna was beyond thrilled to be featured in the magazine. “All I can say is, ‘Wow, my name will be forever affiliated with Vogue– that’s iconic,’” she said. “And history has really been made! It’s really a dream come true I just hope I can keep working with this brand and other brands like Vogue.”
Leyna hopes that her inclusion in this past issue of Vogue India, will invite the magazine to include a more diverse group of models for future issues. “This is an example to other brands that it worlds,” Leyna said. “It’s okay to be the first. It’s okay to share out stories and unite our unique beauty with everyone else. We are in a moment in life when all brands should take a moment to capitalize on missing links in our communities and in society.”
While Bloom is the first openly transgender woman of color to appear in Vogue India, she is preceded by Tracey “Africa” Norman as the first openly transgender woman of color to appear in Vogue, in general. Tracey Norman appeared in Vogue Italia in 1975 when she was young. At the time, she was not open about being transgender. Tracey was again featured in the magazine in October for a profile on her life.
The year 2017 has marked a couple firsts in terms of transgender representation in Vogue magazine. This past June, 20-year-old Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio became the first transgender woman to grace any cover of Vogue. She made this debut in Vogue Paris. “Beyond her evident physical qualities and her sparkling personality, Sampaio embodies a long and painful fight against being perceived as a ‘gender exile,’” said Vogue Paris’ editor-in-chief, Emmanuelle Alt.
But, Leyna is beyond thrilled that she was featured in Vogue. She has been reading the magazine since she was a small child. “Every time I found a Vogue magazine – especially an international copy – I felt like I had a piece of gold,” Leyna said. “Growing up I had stacks and stacks of copies and inspirations from their editorials all over my wall to keep me motived, dreaming that one day I will be on somebody’s wall as their inspiration.”
Leyna always knew she was a woman. “I just by nature, gravitated towards more feminine objects. My father first noticed that and it kind of scared him, but he thought it was a phase that I would grow out of. But, I never grew out of it,” she told Buzzfeed LGBT. Her father was always supportive of her transition. He bought Leyna her first Barbie doll, and he paid for hormone treatments.
Her rise to model stardom was a difficult one. There was a point in time when Leyna found herself living on the streets. But her hope to inspire others and her own struggles kept her motivated. “When I feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, give up.’ I tell myself, ‘Girl, you were homeless.Get up and do something with your life,’” she said. “And that’s what keeps me going, keeps a smile on my face, and makes me want to put makeup on my face to make me feel beautiful.”
Still, Leyna felt a little hurt that the magazine made such an obvious editing error. It was as though they were just lumping all transgender women of color into one group. “We may have the same fight but our journeys are very different and that should be recognized and respected,” Bloom said. “It’s like people mixing up Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman – these two women made history and should be recognized separately for what they did for an entire race of African people and for American history. Did I feel a lack of respect when seeing this? Absolutely. But right away after calling them out, they apologized, and my agents are trying to see what can be done to fix this.”
This isn’t the first time Leyna experienced just being categorized as another model of color or trans model. She believes that many brands and designers will just use diverse models like an accessory. “There have been times when I’ve been on set and obviously the main model would be a white woman,” she said. “And they would, like, have a bag or an accessory. The director would say, ‘Oh, no. take the bag away. Oh, maybe you should add earrings. You know what, f**k it, just put a black model in,’”
Leyna also recently called out the Victoria Secret Fashion show for it’s lack of diversity. The 2017 VSFS was the most racially diverse runway in the show’s history. It cast a record-breaking number of Asian models to walk in the show. However, Leyna thinks that the show still favored white models.
After the show, she tweeted, “All these women of color in the VS Fashion Show that’s amazing right. But they still have way more white girls. It’s like every time they added a woman of color they added another white girl. Next year they need to cast trans and curve models all colors not just Caucasians.”
Despite there still being a lot of work to do about diversity in the fashion industry, Leyna thinks her inclusion in Vogue India was a step in the right direction. She says that her being featured I the magazine will also give other trans people hope. “Once a trans person of color can open a Vogue magazine and see another trans person equally beautiful as the other models and feel the magic … that’s what it’s all about,” she said.