An Ontario model was named Sports Illustrated’s first queer, plus-size rookie

Model, entrepreneur and former fashion editor from Ontario, Lauren Chan, was just given one of the highest honours in fashion – Sports Illustrated Swimsuit‘s rookie of the year. The announcement means Chan is breaking a few barriers: she is the first plus-size model to be named a Sports Illustrated rookie and, in choosing the Swimsuit issue to come out as a lesbian, she is also the first openly queer Sports Illustrated rookie.

Chan, who grew up in Brantford and went to school at the University of Western Ontario, said in an Instagram post, “Atop the list of things I never thought I’d do: be in [Sports Illustrated Swimsuit], be gay, and come out to the world in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.”

The model is a true multi-hyphenate; she previously worked as an editor at Glamour with a focus on plus-size fashion, collaborated with designers including Vera Wang, Christian Siriano, Valentino and Chanel, founded her own luxury fashion brand Henning, serves as an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association and sits on the advisory board for the Model Alliance.

Now, she’s breaking new ground by coming out in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, a choice that she made for an important reason. “Here feels like the right place to celebrate my hard fought pride, relate to other folks in my position, and perhaps change some people’s view of the queer community,” she wrote in a personal essay on the magazine’s website. “In the current political climate, with a record 400-plus anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across the United States this year to date, SI Swimsuit felt like a platform whose reach could make a real difference at a pivotal time.”

Chan, who is in her 30s, details in her essay how she came to realize she’s queer while still married to a man. The story will sound familiar to many queer people — it was when everything paused during the pandemic and work stopped that she had time to sit with her feelings and started to uncover some truths about her identity in therapy. “I discovered that something in my mental code had caused me to repress my feelings, and therefore, my sexuality,” she wrote. “In hindsight, I think the rare connections I had with men were ones of deep friendship or chosen family, which I mistook for sexual or romantic attraction. If I’d ever felt attraction toward a woman, I didn’t clock it as intimate, I just figured it was because I worked in an industry that trained me to appreciate female beauty.”

Chan has received plenty of love from fellow models, influencers and fashion heavyweights so far, including Christian Siriano, Iskra Lawrence, Sasha Exeter and Aurora James.

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