"The fashion industry has always been really excited by and ready to support androgynous models," said Connie Wang, global editor at fashion website, Refinery 29. "So Lea T's omnipresence right now in the modeling community is not so surprising. However, the fact that she is transgender and that she does it so elegantly is noteworthy, and that's why you're seeing so many industry publications talking about her."
She said the move was not meant to shock, but to "titillate fashion insiders who are used to seeing Lea in very classic and austere Givenchy ads."
The magazine cover also coincides with accolades for the film "Becoming Chaz," which was a highlight of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last week and will air on Oprah's new OWN network.
Born the cute blond-haired daughter of '60s singing sensation Sonny and Cher, Chaz was a male trapped in a female body and chronicles her years of gender confusion.
Smith had a similar struggle in a woman's body, preferring G.I. Joes to Barbie dolls.
"I remember being 5 and thinking I was going to grow up and be a man," he said. "Then I was told that wasn't going to happen."
His parents were supportive, but it was hard to break out of what society had ingrained in him. He began taking a male identity in high school, but faced bullying and discrimination.
"It was hard enough being a masculine-looking woman," he said.
Smith retreated to the closet, but eventually transitioned to being a man with hormone treatments. Soon, he will have his breasts removed, but no more surgery.
Now, he works full-time for the group Equality Maryland, which is pushing a bill to guarantee housing and employment protections for people who are transgendered.
"The transgendered community should be able to live without fear of awful things happening, like losing a job or becoming homeless," he said.
The survey of transgendered Americans that will be made public Friday also cited barriers to receiving updated documents for new gender after sex reassignment surgery and abuse by police and prison staff..
"Medical providers and health systems, government agencies, families, businesses and employers, schools and colleges, police departments, jail and prison systems -- each is failing daily in its obligation to serve transgender and non-gender-conforming people, instead subjecting them to mistreatment ranging from commonplace disrespect to outright violence, abuse and the denial of human dignity," said the report.
The consequences are "human and real, ranging from unemployment and homelessness to illness and death," it concluded.
The groups made a "call to action" to put a stop to the ridicule and abuse.
"What all these things show is how bad things are and how strong trans people are," said Mara Keisling, executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality.
"Lea T would be willing to be out there as a pioneer, knowing that everybody is talking about her," she said.