"While everyone is talking about Paul Rudd, here is some better news to share," tweeted just one of the many fans celebrating a historic moment on Thursday: the fact that Brian Michael Smith had become the first transgender man featured in People's annual Sexiest Men Alive issue.
While Rudd, 52, was indeed deemed "sexiest," gracing the cover of the publication, Smith got a flirty — and historic — shout-out as part of the "25 of the Sexiest Men You Can Watch on TV Now" feature: "Well howdy, partner! The 9-1-1: Lone Star was one of People's Ones to Watch in 2021 and we will definitely not have a hard time keeping an eye on him!"
The actor celebrated the moment on Instagram, noting, "I've been called many things," but "this is a first," adding that he was "incredibly honored" to have made the list.
“Trans men should be recognized alongside other men, and People's Sexiest Man Alive issue is sending a powerful and inclusive message by including the very worthy Brian Michael Smith this year," Alex Schmider, GLAAD's associate director of Transgender Representation, tells Yahoo Life. "While trans men still remain largely underrepresented in media, especially Black trans men, Smith continues to use his personal and professional platforms to drive visibility and expand representation for other trans men to see greater possibilities for their lives.”
Smith, who has played transgender firefighter Paul Strickland on 9-1-1 Lonestar since 2020 — becoming the first out Black trans man in a recurring network TV role — is also known for appearances on Girls and Homeland, as well as on The L Word: Generation Q, which featured him in a recurring role as political strategist Pierce Williams.
But it was his 2017 role as trans police officer Toine Wilkins on Ava DuVernay's Queen Sugar, on OWN, that launched him into stardom — and which served as the vehicle for Smith's own coming out.
It was a moment Smith arrived at after much self-investigation and therapy, he told NBC Out at the time. "In my personal life I felt a little bit more complete and accepting of my entire experience, and I wanted to do the same thing in my work," he said. "There were a lot experiences I had during my transition and post-transition, and I feel that I learned a lot, and I wanted to share that through my work as an artist. I felt that because of the amount of time that I’ve been training and the experiences I’ve been able to collect, I’m at a place as a performer that I could truly bring these things to work."
Further, because of the work of activists including Laverne Cox and the people of GLAAD, Smith noted, "there are more roles that have trans people in them that are better written and rooted in authenticity. This is definitely the time."
Just like now appears to be the time for Smith to be celebrated for sexiness in People — something fans on could not get enough of on social media this week. Notable comments on his Instagram post came from activist Ashlee Marie Presley, who posted, "Go tf awf" with a flame emoji; filmmaker Cheryl Dunye noting, "Bravo Brain. You are one of the hottest and talented men on TV!"; and actress Isis King telling Smith, "You had the guns out!! Congrats!"
Others celebrated him with posts of their own:
— Alex Spearman (@AlexJSpearman) November 12, 2021
🏳️⚧️ The actor became the first out Black trans man in a series regular role on network television when he was cast as firefighter Paul Strickland in @FOXTV's #911LoneStar.
via @gaytimes https://t.co/RiKXb4LKXD
— Openly 🏳️🌈 (@Openly) November 12, 2021
"I worked with young people at the LGBT Center [in New York City], and I just saw how important it was for young LGBT people, no matter where they were in their experience, to see what is down the road for them," Smith told NBC Out in 2017 about what motivates him. "It’s really important to me to be visible in my work."