Sports Illustrated’s win for LGBTQ visibility: Trans, nonbinary WNBA star Layshia Clarendon on its digital cover

Elise Solé
·2-min read

Sports Illustrated has a new digital cover star, WNBA player Layshia Clarendon, a nonbinary transgender athlete and one of few openly competing in professional sports.    

The magazine debuted its daily cover on Friday, accompanied by the feature story Living Nonbinary in a Binary Sports World by Britni de la Cretaz, who interviewed the New York Liberty guard about how undergoing top surgery — a procedure (mastectomy) to remove breast tissue, also called chest masculinization surgery — would affect their career (“It was something for me that was causing a lot of mental health issues,” said Clarendon), and the importance of trans-inclusive sports policies in women’s leagues. 

“I've always known I was more than just a girl or a woman, but I didn’t know what exactly I was,” Clarendon, 29, told Sports Illustrated. “And so, identifying as nonbinary and trans in terms of the larger umbrella is really important to me. That gives me a place to belong and gives me community.” Nonbinary people don't precisely or equally identify as either male or female, if at all, and, as the story notes, Clarendon uses "he," "she" and "they" pronouns.

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He adds, “It’s really important to me for that to be seen and for me to be whole. My gender is just too big to fit in either box.”

SI is pursuing diversity in its pages: Last month, the publication featured its first Black and Asian transgender model, Lenya Bloom (who told Yahoo Life the experience was "mind blowing") following the 2020 debut of transgender model Valentina Sampaio in its pages. While Caitlin Jenner was the first transgender athlete to grace its cover, an SI spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, Clarendon, the publication believes, is the first nonbinary athlete on a digital or print cover.

Editor-in-chief MJ Day recently told Yahoo Life that tokenism is not the goal of diversity. "It's not like, 'Oh, we featured a trans woman last year, so we've checked that box, we can move on. It never is."

"When you go back to the first Tyra Banks cover, it was a welcome breath of fresh air for people," Day added. "And then when Kate Upton got all of that heat for being what they were calling a 'nontraditional' model size. For people to rally around her and demand retractions from other media outlets that called her negative things. To Ashley Graham being on the cover — the world responded to her with such enthusiasm and support, but at the time there was like this shockwave because it was a first. But now it's normal, now it's normalized."

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