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Growing up in Spring, Texas, it wasn’t always easy for DeAndré Upshaw to blend in: His parents were both educators and his father was a Black minister in the small, predominantly white town. By the end of his freshman year, Upshaw was 6-feet 7-inches tall. He also had a big personality that made him hard to miss.
But despite the reputation of small rural towns being conservative and unaccepting, Upshaw gradually found friends and comfort.
“There is a closeness and sense of community in smaller towns and cities — running into people you know in the grocery store, the camaraderie of Friday night football… which can be positive but also a double-edged sword,” Upshaw says.
Over time, he learned to use his social affluence and personal differences to his advantage.
His big size helped him on the field as a member of his school’s football team. His big personality made him a stand-out performer in his school’s theater and his church’s choir. His notoriety and warmth helped him make valuable friends.
He realized that these friends and his family had become his rock. He could call on them whenever times got rough and depend on their support when others fell away.
In short, by embracing his gifts and body, Upshaw found support and was able to move through his life with purpose.
“There is power, strength and beauty in being your authentic self,” he says. “Confidence is key.”
After graduating high school, Upshaw attended a Baptist college and eventually met Stuart Hausmann, the man who’d become his fiancé. The two came out at the same time and, thankfully, Upshaw’s religious parents grew to embrace his sexual identity and their relationship.
Now, Upshaw has achieved success as a social media influencer, a show host, a big-and-tall model, and an activist. He has interviewed big-name stars like Jim Carrey, Usher, and Forest Whitaker; and collaborated with such well-known companies as Amazon, American Express, and KAY Jewelers.
Though he’s grown a lot since his small-town upbringing, his positive experiences continue to fuel his life. His successes are now inspiring a new generation of queer, large-bodied men of color to take Pride in themselves and pursue their passions.
“Be bold. Be yourself. Live and love authentically, and show the world that LGBTQ+ people are just that – people,” he says. “We live, laugh and love just like you.”
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