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Nyle DiMarco became the first deaf contestant to participate in “America’s Next Top Model” when he was scouted by its producers in 2015. By the end of the year, he had skyrocketed to stardom as the show’s first deaf winner.
The 33-year-old model and activist uses his celebrity status as an opportunity to educate his followers about Deaf culture. DiMarco, who grew up in a multigenerational deaf family, has continually shared in interviews his pride in being a part of the Deaf community.
“Being Deaf did not give me any hesitation to be a part of the show,” he told People magazine during his “America’s Next Top Model” season. “In fact, I was thrilled. I saw it as an opportunity to not only become a supermodel, but to change the world’s perspective on Deafness.”
After signing with Wilhelmina Models post-competition, DiMarco made his next big break on “Dancing With the Stars” — becoming the first deaf participant 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 come out until the fame hit. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know his sexuality, and he said he felt closeted for the first time — even though he felt sexual fluidity shouldn’t be anything to hide.
“When it blew up, I was surprised at the reaction, because they all were positive, including so many media outlets,” he told Paper. “So many people related to me, both women and men. So many felt a sense of relief because they weren’t the only one.”
To many of his fans, DiMarco represents a role model for both the LGBTQ and Deaf communities. He had been an actor and freelance model before his stint 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 partnered with Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids, a national education campaign working to support early language acquisition.
DiMarco said he experienced firsthand the consequences of such 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 — lacked access to American Sign Language education, which manifested in negative ways.
“I’d meet people who didn’t have access to a proper education or language, and those barriers left them angry and bitter,” DiMarco told People in April. “I started to see a pattern in our community that I recognized from my own father.”
In recent years, DiMarco has increasingly integrated 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 project of DiMarco’s, 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 Academy Awards.
DiMarco's varied production work led him to launch Clerc Studio, which describes itself on its Instagram page as a “production house committed to amplify the stories of Disabled people, which make up the world’s largest minority.”
The actor, model and producer also published a memoir in April, in which he shares stories from his childhood in New York City and chronicles his rise to fame. “Deaf Utopia: A Memoir — and a Love Letter to a Way of Life” is a celebration of his culture and community.
“Being Deaf assigned me a battle,” he told The New York Times ahead of the book’s release. “If my family were hearing and I were the only Deaf person, I don’t think I’d see the value in the fight. I wouldn’t see the value in advocating for my own rights, and I wouldn’t have learned it at home.”