“Drag Race”'s Kelly Mantle Had a Big Supporter Growing Up: Uncle Mickey Mantle, Yankees Hall of Famer

The performer looks back at their bond and talks a new advocacy project, focusing on others in the LGBTQ+ community

<p>Paul Archuleta/Getty</p> Kelly Mantle

Paul Archuleta/Getty

Kelly Mantle

Growing up in Oklahoma, Rupaul’s Drag Race season 6 contestant Kelly Mantle says she often felt the small town of New Cordell couldn’t support her big dreams and ambitions as a queer artist. But she found what she needed within her own family, including from her baseball legend uncle Mickey Mantle.

Despite being raised in a family where sports was very prevalent — with a football coach father and all-star athlete brother — Kelly says that she was encouraged to follow her passions. Her uncle Mickey was among her fans.

“I was always his favorite when we would have little family events and stuff because I always made him laugh and I would perform for him … he always said, you know, ‘You’re gonna be a star,’ ” Kelly, 47, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.

She adds that the New York Yankees Hall of Famer, who died in 1995, would be proud of the career she’s built if he were alive today: “Like my parents and everyone else, he would fully embrace me,” she says.

Related: How Families Help Support LGBTQ Kids in One of the Most Conservative States in the Country

<p>Robin Marchant/Getty</p> Kelly Mantle

Robin Marchant/Getty

Kelly Mantle

“He was such a great guy, a wonderful sense of humor. … I was a very fortunate kid in that I had parents who accepted me and believed in me and encouraged me to be myself and to venture off into the areas I was naturally good at," she says.

That provided a sense of protection and security that many young members of the LGBTQ+ community don’t receive, Kelly notes.

As Pride Month continues, she is partnering with Unilever’s United We Stand program, which describes itself as “dedicated to help improve conditions and access to critical services for underserved 2SLGBTQIA+ communities,” referring to the broader LGBTQ+ umbrella that includes people like Native Americans who identify as two-spirit, outside of the male or female binary.

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A new film from the United We Stand campaign highlights Freedom Oklahoma, an advocacy and support organization with a special focus on two-spirit and indigiqueer people in the state’s 39 tribes.

Kelly tells PEOPLE she first learned about Freedom Oklahoma’s “wonderful, wonderful work” after the tragic suicide of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict earlier this year.

Kelly helped develop the new short film from United We Stand, titled “Threads Together,” about the power of a community beading circle.

<p>Amanda Edwards/Getty </p> Kelly Mantle

Amanda Edwards/Getty

Kelly Mantle

Looking back on her experience making the short film, Kelly says, “The beading circle was just the moment of community and healing and sharing, and not only their artistry with these magical beads but just these stories they were sharing at the time … sitting there in the room experiencing all the stories and everything, it was just so magical.”

Although she currently resides in Los Angeles, Kelly says that whenever she can offer support to members of the community in her home state, she will.

“I didn’t hesitate for a second to say yes. Any way I can ever try to give back or shine a light on that community in Oklahoma, I will most certainly do it,” she says.

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Kelly was introduced to the United We Stand campaign by Rana Reeves, founder of queer-owned creative agency RanaVerse, and community strategist Sean Coleman.

"It is some of the most intentional and meaningful work of my career. It is truly an initiative born from the community for the community by the community and I applaud Unilever for now being in its sixth year of this work,’’ Reeves says of United We Stand.

<p>Araya Doheny/Getty</p> Kelly Mantle

Araya Doheny/Getty

Kelly Mantle

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In the spirit of Pride Month, Kelly also has a few words of encouragement for the younger members of the community who may still be trying to figure out where they fit in:

“Allow yourself time to explore who you are.”

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