Brian Michael Smith

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Brian Michael Smith
Photo of Smith at 2018 GLAAD Media Awards in NYC
Smith at 2018 GLAAD Media Awards in New York City
Born (1983-01-29) January 29, 1983 (age 39)
Years active2012–present

Brian Michael Smith (born January 29, 1983) is an American actor known for ground-breaking performances on television and advocacy for trans representation in media. His role as Toine Wilkins, a transgender police officer, in Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar,[1] (OWN), launched him into a series of high-profile roles including political strategist Pierce Williams in Showtime's The L Word: Generation Q (2019) cast.[2] Smith became the first out black trans man in a series regular role on network television when he was cast as firefighter Paul Strickland in FOX's 9-1-1: Lone Star (2020).[3] Other appearances include NBC's Chicago P.D., HBO's Girls, and Showtime's thriller Homeland.

Early life[edit]

Smith was raised on the east side of Ann Arbor, Michigan by his mother, Ingrid Smith, an event planner and Ford Motor Company employee, with the support of a close-knit family. He and his mother spent his early years living with aunts, cousins, and a brother.[4][5] Although born female, he identified and was perceived as male throughout his childhood. He challenged pressures to conform to his assigned gender role through performance and athletics.[4][6]

While attending Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, he played defensive end and fullback on the boys football team during the fall, and set records in shot put and pole vaulting on the girls track & field team in the spring.[4][7] On September 17, 1999, during a game at Traverse City, Smith became the first assigned female at birth athlete to score a varsity touchdown in the State of Michigan.[8][9][10]


Smith studied acting and video production at Kent State University. Upon graduation, he began teaching drama and media literacy to teens until he moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting.[11]

He began training under Terry Knickerbocker at the William Esper Studio in 2011. While studying, he earned featured roles on a few TV shows and a Toyota commercial opposite Eli Manning.[12][13]

He has also explored the stage, performing stand-up, sketch, and improv comedy as a member of numerous troupes including Gotham City Improv,[citation needed] as well as acting in off-Broadway and regional theater in a handful of plays, including Women Are Crazy Because Men Are A**Holes and Mitch Albom's Duck Hunter Shoots Angel.[4]

In 2015, he earned his first speaking credit in Season 4 of HBO's Girls opposite Jemima Kirke and Adam Driver.[14] This followed with similar roles on TV shows including Blue Bloods, Person of Interest, and Law & Order: SVU. In 2019, it was revealed that Michael Smith would appear in the second season of 9-1-1: Lone Star after its renewal.[15]

Queen Sugar[edit]

In 2017, Smith was cast in the role of Officer Antoine "Toine" Wilkins on OWN's series Queen Sugar. Toine is a trans man. Executive-produced by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, the Louisiana-set drama focuses on the lives and loves of the estranged Bordelon siblings. The show is based on the novel Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile.[16]

The role was one of Smith's first opportunities to play a transgender character and explore his own life experiences in his acting.[13] As he has put it:

Toine and Ralph's relationship is much more reflective of the experiences I've had with long-time friends and I hadn't seen that on screen yet. I was excited at the thought of sharing this with people who may not know that they know trans people in their personal life.[11]

In 2018, Ava Duvernay won a GLAAD Excellence in Media Award for her advocacy for inclusion of LGBT people in front of and behind the camera on her projects, particularly for creating Toine Wilkins and casting a transgender actor for the role.[17]


Television roles
Year Title Role Notes
2015 Girls Cop 1
2016 The Detour Firefighter
2016–2018 Blue Bloods Officer Buckley, Hoffman's partner 4 episodes
2017 Chicago P.D. Roland Garrett
2018 Homeland EMT Nate
2017–present Queen Sugar Toine Wilkins Recurring
2019 The L Word: Generation Q Pierce Williams Recurring
2020–present 9-1-1: Lone Star Paul Strickland Series regular[18]
2020 Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen Himself Documentary film


Brian Michael Smith, Janet Mock, and Amiyah Scott hold a panel discussion at the University of Michigan “My Life. My Story! Centering the Voices of Trans Lives” Event in February 2018.

Upon graduating from Kent State, Michael returned to Michigan and began teaching and mentoring youth through filmmaking through the Gear Up Program at the University of Michigan.[19]

In New York, he continued his media literacy and mentoring programs with Wingspan Arts, Maysles Documentary Center and the Tribeca Film Institute's Tribeca Teaches Program. He discovered the importance of community and visibility while he worked with LGBT youth at the Manhattan LGBT Center[13]

On NBC News, Smith said: "I worked with young people 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."[13]

Since Queen Sugar, Michael has used his visibility and platforms to advocate for better trans representation in television and film and to encourage LGBTQ youth to create their own media.

In February 2018, he was a special guest and panelist at the University of Michigan's 4th Annual Trotter House Lecture Series, My Life, My Story! Centering the Lives of Trans Voices event alongside Janet Mock and Amiyah Scott.[19]

During NYC Pride he participated in the GLAAD Game Changers Panel in 2018 with Jamie Clayton and Amiyah Scott to discuss the changing landscape of transgender representation in television.[20]

In August 2018, Smith joined Laverne Cox, Trace Lysette, Jen Richards, Alexandra Billings and Chaz Bono in a Variety magazine's first Transgender in Hollywood Roundtable. The hour-long roundtable was released in conjunction with the August 7 print issue dedicated to trans representation and discrimination within Hollywood. During the discussion, Smith said: "We are artists and we want to create things and we want to have choice and our visibility should not cost us that choice."[21]

In addition to public speaking, he continues to advocate through his art and to support trans narratives in television and film by participating in projects such as Sam Feder's documentary, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen released on June 19, 2020, by Netflix.[22]

In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named him among the fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people”.[23][24]


  1. ^ "'Queen Sugar' Actor Brian Michael on Transgender Scene: 'It's Important to Have This Element of Truth'". TheWrap. July 13, 2017. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  2. ^ "'The L Word: Generation Q' casts 'One Mississippi' and 'Queen Sugar' stars". Retrieved August 2, 2019.
  3. ^ "Brian Michael Smith Is TV's First Black Trans Man In Regular Role". September 24, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d "Brian Michael on breaking barriers for trans male actors and his 'Queen Sugar' role". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  5. ^ "Brian Michael Smith". QUEERY with Cameron Esposito. July 4, 2022.
  6. ^ Walsh, S.M. (July 13, 2017). "Brian Michael, Antoine Wilkins on 'Queen Sugar': 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  7. ^ "Michigan High School Track & Field Regionals". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Lawler, Jennifer (2002). Punch!: Why Women Participate in Violent Sports. Wish Publishing. ISBN 9781930546509.
  9. ^ "American Football Monthly - High School Notes". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  10. ^ "Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on November 8, 1999 · Page 39". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "GLAAD talks to Brian Michael from OWN's Queen Sugar". GLAAD. July 10, 2017. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  12. ^ Brian Michael (February 6, 2013), Toyota Commercial Eli Really Does Lawnmower, retrieved July 5, 2018
  13. ^ a b c d "'Queen Sugar' actor Brian Michael Smith comes out as transgender". NBC News. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  14. ^ "Who's That Guy Arresting Girls' Jessa??". BuzzFeed Community. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  15. ^ "Pioneering transgender actor Brian Michael Smith social distances far from home". Los Angeles Times. April 25, 2020. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  16. ^ "Ralph Angel Reconnects with a Transgender Man He Once Protected". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  17. ^ "Watch Ava DuVernay Discuss "This Leaderless Country" in GLAAD Awards Speech (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  18. ^ "Fox's '911' Spinoff to Feature Transgender Actor as Series Regular". The Hollywood Reporter. September 23, 2019. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  19. ^ a b "Trotter Multicultural Center hosts lecture honoring transgender and nonbinary stories". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  20. ^ "NYC Pride and GLAAD Host 'Game Changers' Series". Instinct. June 20, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  21. ^ Setoodeh, Ramin (August 7, 2018). "Transgender Actors Roundtable: Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and More on Hollywood Discrimination". Variety. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  22. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (May 29, 2020). "Netflix Acquires Sundance Docu 'Disclosure' From Director Sam Feder".
  23. ^ "Queerty Pride50 2020 Honorees". Queerty. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  24. ^ Reddish, David (June 1, 2020). "Meet the world-class performers who are diversifying LGBTQ representation". Queerty. Retrieved July 28, 2020.

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