It’s been quite a roller coaster for Zeke Smith, a two-time Survivor contestant, who was outed as a
transgender man on-air just weeks before being voted off the competition.
Since the controversial tribal council that first aired April
12, Smith has spoken about the incident involving fellow contestant Jeff Varner
and his “surprise” by the outpouring of support from the media and viewers alike.
“I feel a lot more love today than I really ever have in my life,” he told ET
Thursday, the morning after his elimination aired on CBS.
And when it comes to the upcoming reunion of the Survivor: Game Changers cast that will
air live on May 24, Smith tells ET at the GLAAD Rising Stars Grants Luncheon
that he’s looking forward to seeing everyone. “We had a hell of a season,” he says, adding: “Jeff Varner
and I, we’re working on it. I’m excited to speak to him when it’s finale day.”
MORE: Zeke Smith Says 'I Feel a Lot More Love' After Being Outed on 'Survivor'
And while it’s only been a matter of weeks since being outed
on TV, Smith has found himself thrust into the spotlight both as a voice and
advocate for the LGBTQ community -- a platform that he’s still adjusting to. “It’s
still a little awkward for me,” he admits at the luncheon, where he was on-hand
to present the Delta Air Lines Accelerating Acceptance Grant to Aisha Bibbs -- one
of three rising stars honored -- for her work to create awareness and acceptance
at University of Louisville.
“I’m still learning,” Smith adds, pointing to fellow
presenter Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old activist at the center of a civil rights
case over bathroom rights for transgender people that was taken to the Supreme
Court. “I get my courage from that guy and I follow in his footsteps. So, I’m
pretty excited to be here with him.”
While presenting the grant to Bibbs, Smith applauded GLAAD,
the organization’s Transgender Media Program and director Nick Adams. “I want
to thank them for working with me and CBS in order to turn a dark moment into a
global conversation about privacy and respect,” he said.
MORE: Zeke Smith Says He Doesn't Want Jeff Varner to 'Feel the Pain That I Had' After 'Survivor' Outing
When it comes to the larger conversation about those two
issues, Smith tells ET that it continues well beyond what happened on Survivor: “[Privacy and respect] are
really at the forefront where transgender people are politically.”
But if there’s any silvering lining in everything that’s
happened, it’s a feeling of greater acceptance -- a common theme of the luncheon
honoring a new generation of LGBTQ -- and a newfound confidence to break down
barriers. “A misconception I once held is that there were places I didn’t
belong because I was trans,” Smith says. “And Survivor really exploded that notion for me. I think that there
were doors that I used to think were closed to me, but now, I’m ready to go beat