'9-1-1: Lone Star' 's Brian Michael Smith Loves How His Teacher Wife Denisse Perez 'Affirms Her Children'

Brian Michael Smith tells PEOPLE that he wishes "every student" had a teacher like his wife Denisse Perez

Brian Michael Smith (R) and wife Denise Perez attend the GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton on March 30, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California
Brian Michael Smith (R) and wife Denisse Perez at the GLAAD Media Awards. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Brian Michael Smith is paying tribute to the important teachers in his life.

At the 34th Annual GLAAD Awards on Thursday, the 9-1-1: Lone Star actor, who is transgender, opened up to PEOPLE about how his wife of nine years, Denisse Perez, helps her students embrace their own identities as a teacher in the New York City Department of Education.

"She's a teacher, worked at the NYC DOE for almost 20 years," Smith, 40, shared. "And 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."

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 25: Brian Michael Smith attends the Human Rights Campaign Dinner at JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE on March 25, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Human Rights Campaign)
Brian Michael Smith. Kevin Winter/Getty

Smith also recalled how a teacher in elementary school encouraged 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 shared. "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," he added.

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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."

He added: "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."

Smith remembered how moving to New York allowed him "a chance to just be Brian and that was great."

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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