'9-1-1: Lone Star' 's Brian Michael Smith Says Anti-Trans Political Wave 'Emboldens Me': 'I'm Still Fighting'
"There's a whole community of people in the entertainment industry who are trying to put out truth in the midst of all this misinformation," the actor tells PEOPLE of supporting the trans community
Brian Michael Smith is refusing to give up the fight.
While attending the 34th Annual GLAAD Awards on Thursday, the 9-1-1: Lone Star actor, who is transgender, opened up to PEOPLE about the significance of celebrating the LGBTQ community while trans rights continue to be threatened across the country.
"Coming together like this, I mean, it's exciting and I don't know the word for it, but it's rewarding. That's what it is," the 40-year-old actor said. "It's a really rewarding experience because I work with people who really put their money where their mouth is, in terms of who they are as authentic people. They bring that to their characters on the screen. They bring it in their attitude at work."
"So when we have moments like this, where we get to celebrate, we are truthfully, genuinely celebrating together and it just feels wonderful, because you don't have that all the time," he continued.
Related:9-1-1: Lone Star's Brian Michael Smith Loves How His Teacher Wife Denisse Perez 'Affirms Her Children'
Smith noted that being around his LGBTQ colleagues and their allies serves as a source of inspiration and encourages him to keep fighting at times when it feels hopeless.
"It makes me feel like there's something that I can do about what's happening because oftentimes I feel so powerless," he shared. "It feels like, honestly, every day, two or three new bills are being proposed. Two or three bills are being passed. People are crying. People like uproot their whole families and move out of state because they're losing access to care. Or because they're being bullied because they're being targeted."
"So being able to come out tonight and show that, 'Hey, I'm still here. I'm fighting.' That there's a whole community of people in the entertainment industry who are trying to put out truth in the midst of all this misinformation," he added. "It emboldens me a little bit."
At the event, Smith also spoke about the teachers in his life who played a role in his own journey of self acceptance.
"One of the first teachers who really liked to affirm me was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Kitzman, who took this rambunctious child and didn't sit me down. She said, 'We're going to work with this,'" he recalled. "And so she really was one of the first who just accepted me as I was."
"A lot of things that other people would look at as problems. She said, 'No, This is part of who you are. We're going to work something out for you,'" he continued. "And she gave me my love of reading. She gave me my love of my own voice, and she gave me my own ability to stand in how I do things, which I feel like has gotten me here."
Related:9-1-1: Lone Star Actor Brian Michael Smith on Fighting to 'Just Be Brian,' Asking Haters to 'Let Me Live'
He also sweetly gave a shout out to his teacher wife Denisse Perez, who has worked in the New York City Department of Education for nearly 20 years.
"The work that she does with children, the way that she affirms her children is something that I love to see and something that I wish that every student had," he said of his wife.
Earlier this week, Smith discussed making the decision to transition as a young adult and recognizing himself in the mirror for the first time after beginning hormone therapy during Dotdash Meredith's From Invisibility to Trans Visibility Week panel, which was moderated by writer and actor Scott Turner Schofield. The discussion also featured ACLU Deputy Director for Transgender Justice Chase Strangio, Olympian Chris Mosier and actor Vico Ortiz.
"I was able to see myself expressed on the outside physically in a way and really be inside my body for the first time and be visibly seen and taken into the world as myself for the first time," he shared. "I really just wanted to enjoy that."
"I am myself and the person that I've seen in my mind's eye for so long is looking back at me in the mirror, is out on the streets," he noted, before adding how moving to New York allowed him "a chance to just be Brian and that was great."
Related:9-1-1: Lone Star's Brian Michael Smith Teases 'a Lot of Heat' for Strickland in Season 4
The Queen Sugar alum also spoke about living his truth after publicly coming out as transgender in 2017.
"We're trans people. We've been trans the whole time. So I never was a woman who became a man. I was me the whole time," he shared. "You know, you just thought I was but we are who we are. And just because you don't understand it doesn't mean that we're not real."
"I feel like that's something I have a really hard time navigating," he added. "We have these sort of arguments and these debates where people are trying to tell me about something, and I'm like, 'I'm the one living the experience. I'm here, I'm telling you, I'm a trans person. You're not, that's okay. You don't have to be trans. I am. Let me live.'"
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9-1-1: Lone Star airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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