Zeke Smith gives heartfelt speech about the importance of trans role models at GLAAD's Rising Stars Luncheon


A little over a year ago, Survivor contestant Zeke Smith was accused by another player of being deceptive and lying simply because Zeke chose to not disclose his gender history to the other people on the island. Thankfully, between when the episode taped and when it aired, Zeke, CBS' Survivor, and GLAAD teamed up to change the narrative – and created a national conversation about trans visibility and acceptance.

One year later, Zeke Smith stood onstage at GLAAD's GLAAD Rising Stars Luncheon at the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York. He was there to accept the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program on behalf of Survivor: Game Changers, and to deliver inspirational remarks to an audience of LGBTQ young people and influencers – "GLAAD and Survivor have completely changed my life."

At the Rising Stars event, Smith described his improbable journey to becoming a role model saying, "Frankly I wasn't too keen on being super publicly trans. So Survivor put me in touch with GLAAD, and in particular with GLAAD's king of transgender media, Nick Adams." Smith continued, "Together with GLAAD, we changed millions of people's perceptions of transgender people. We shattered stereotypes. We created a global conversation about privacy and respect."

Finding his own role model helped Zeke get more comfortable being a trans role model himself, especially to the younger generation: "Over the past year, I've met a lot of trans kids. Transitioning in middle and high school is hard. I see these kids struggling to retain hope that they'll have an equal shot in the world. LGBTQ visibility on television matters because for many it is the only chance to glimpse their future. And to see that it is very bright."

Zeke Smith's inspiring call for trans representation in media was a shining moment at the Luncheon, where GLAAD also announced the college students who will receive Rising Stars Grants for projects that use media to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance. The 2018 recipients of the Rising Stars Grants in New York included diverse, intersectional artists and advocates Priscila Alegria Nunez, Kosoko Jackson, and Akila Prayaga.

The GLAAD Rising Stars program was presented by Barilla, Comcast NBCUniversal | Telemundo, Delta Air Lines, Turner, and Wells Fargo. Actor Nico Tortorella hosted the event, with appearances by Auli'I Cravalho (Rise), Ellie Desautels (Rise), Joshua Rush (Andi Mack), Milk (RuPaul's Drag Race), and advocate Blair Imani.