Nyle DiMarco is a role model for the Deaf and LGBTQ communities

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Nyle DiMarco became the first deaf contestant to enter “America’s Next Top Model” when he was scouted by his producers in 2015. By the end of the year, he had risen to fame as the first deaf winner of the emission.

The 33-year-old model and activist uses her celebrity status as an opportunity to educate her followers about deaf culture. DiMarco, who grew up in a multi-generational deaf family, has continually shared in interviews his pride in being part of the deaf community.

“Being deaf gave me no hesitation about being on the show,” he told People magazine during its “America’s Next Top Model” season. “Actually, I was thrilled. I saw it as an opportunity to not only become a top model, but to change the world’s perspective on deafness.

After signing with Wilhelmina Models after the competition, DiMarco made his next big breakthrough on “Dancing With the Stars” – becoming the first deaf entrant to win on any country’s version of the international franchise.

DiMarco identifies as sexually fluid, and he told Paper magazine in 2017 that he never felt the need to officially date until fame hit. Suddenly everyone wanted to know about his sexuality, and he said he felt locked in for the first time — even though he thought sexual fluidity shouldn’t be something to hide.

“When it exploded I was surprised at the reaction because they were all positive, including so many media outlets,” he told Paper. “So many people related to me, women and men. Many felt a sense of relief because they were not alone.

For many of his fans, DiMarco is a role model for the LGBTQ and deaf communities. He had been a freelance actor and model before his time on “America’s Next Top Model,” but after finding himself in the national spotlight, he founded the Nyle DiMarco Foundation in 2016 to expand deaf children’s access to language skills.

To raise awareness about the deprivation of opportunities to learn American Sign Language or English, the foundation has partnered with Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids, a national education campaign to support the acquisition early language.

DiMarco said he experienced first-hand the consequences of these language barriers, which are prevalent among deaf children. In a recent interview with People, DiMarco said his physically abusive father — who is deaf but grew up with hearing parents — didn’t have access to American Sign Language education, which manifested in ways negative.

“I was meeting people who didn’t have access to proper education or language, and those barriers made them angry and bitter,” DiMarco told People in April. “I began to see a pattern in our community that I recognized from my own father.”

In recent years, DiMarco has increasingly incorporated his activism into his entertainment work. His Netflix reality show “Deaf U,” which he produced in 2020, centers on a group of friends navigating life at his alma mater Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts college for deaf students.

The 2021 Netflix documentary “Audible” is another DiMarco project, following a deaf football player as he prepares for his final high school homecoming game. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Short at this year’s Oscars.

DiMarco’s varied production work led him to launch Clerc Studio, which describes itself on its Instagram page as a “production house committed to amplifying the stories of people with disabilities, who are the world’s largest minority.”

The actor, model and producer also released a memoir in April, in which he shares stories from growing up in New York and recounting his rise to fame. “Deaf Utopia: A Memoir – and a Love Letter to a Way of Life” is a celebration of its culture and community.

“Being deaf assigned me a battle,” he told The New York Times ahead of the book’s release. “If my family could hear and I was the only deaf person, I don’t think I would see the value of the fight. I wouldn’t see the point of defending my own rights and I wouldn’t have learned it at home.

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Rebecca R. Santistevan