Welcome to the 26th installment of our 2021 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Best known as gay firefighter-turned-paramedic T.K. Strand on FOX’s 9-1-1: Lone Star, Ronen Rubinstein is an actor and activist who recently came out as bisexual. When he’s not acting, Rubinstein is usually advocating for the preservation of the environment or using his voice to speak out about other issues. While last year we spotlighted T.K., this year it’s all about the actor behind the character. Keep reading to see why Ronen Rubinstein is being recognized in this Pride Month Spotlight.
Rubinstein was born in Israel and moved to the United States with his parents and older sister when he was five, growing up on Staten Island. While he felt like an outsider growing up as an immigrant and had difficulty adapting to the American culture, as he admitted once during an interview, he was introduced to acting in his sophomore year of high school thanks to his guidance counselor. Rubinstein went on to pursue an acting career and graduated from the New York Film Academy. The Smiley Face Killers actor began taking on roles in various films, and was in the third season of Orange Is the New Black and starred as Alex Powell on Freeform’s short-lived series Dead of Summer in 2016 before landing the role as gay firefighter and son of Rob Lowe’s Owen Strand, T.K., on FOX’s 9-1-1 spin-off, 9-1-1: Lone Star.
9-1-1: Lone Star
Rubinstein has been portraying Tyler Kennedy “T.K.” Strand on FOX’s first responder drama 9-1-1: Lone Star for two seasons now. T.K. is an openly gay firefighter-turned-paramedic who recently celebrated one full year of sobriety. T.K. has gone through a lot already and will likely go through more as the series progresses. T.K.’s decision to become a paramedic didn’t come until halfway through season 2. He wanted more of a challenge and felt he could really help people as a paramedic, rather than a firefighter.
His relationship with his father is a special one. While Owen doesn’t always make him feel the greatest or support his decisions, T.K. knows he’s always there for him. The 126 is like his family, whether they’re out on calls together or hanging out, even if they aren’t together, like in the upcoming third season. And T.K.’s relationship with police boyfriend, Carlos, is a growing one. While they don’t always agree on things, they are always there for each other and comfort one another when needed. T.K. always listens to Carlos and vice versa, and they have taken several steps in season 2. Their relationship going into season 3 is as strong as ever.
Since portraying T.K. on 9-1-1: Lone Star, and before, Rubinstein has openly been an ally for the LGBTQ+ community, showing his support and admiration for his coworker and on-screen boyfriend, Rafael Silva, and others in the community. This past April, the actor did a very honest interview with Variety, officially coming out as bisexual. In the interview, Rubinstein stated:
“The biggest thing for me is where I come from, it’s like people like me and people who have identified as bisexual or gay or as any part of the community, you’re just not welcomed. It’s as brutally honest as that. It’s either you faced insane amounts of profanity, like the F-word was thrown around all the time or you would get your ass kicked if you were gay. So there was definitely a fear of sort of embracing how I felt. I was definitely more aware of it in high school. I was aware of my feelings and how I started looking at men, but I couldn’t talk to anybody about it.”
The reason why the 27-year-old actor felt the need to come out now was because he felt safe and comfortable to talk about it and embrace it. Rubinstein shared with Variety that his girlfriend, actress Jessica Parker Kennedy, was the first to ask him about his sexuality while they were watching a scene from 9-1-1: Lone Star together. Kennedy has remained very supportive of him and their relationship is still going strong. He came to Mark Malkin of Variety with the idea of coming out in an interview because he wants to help queer youth who may be struggling.
“I want people to know that this is a hopeful and a happy story. I want people to know that they’re not alone and it’s definitely okay. Trust me, I know that it is not easy. My path has not been easy at all, but it’s just one more thing that I can share with people to help them and let them know that I’m here for them.”
Earlier this month, for PEOPLE Magazine’s Pride issue, Rubinstein got together with 9-1-1: Lone Star costar Rafael Silva and his stylist, Chaise Dennis, to open up about coming out and his journey. He mentioned that the fans’ love and support is what encouraged him to come out as they’ve been so open and personal with him.
Rubinstein revealed that growing up in the Soviet Union, the LGBTQ community “was not welcomed at all, so I can’t blame my parents for the way they were raised and what they were taught. Then in America, there was this pressure to be tough and masculine. In high school I saw people get their asses kicked just for being gay. It was a scary place to attempt to explore your sexuality.” When Rubinstein and Silva were auditioning together for Lone Star, Rubinstein says there was an “unspoken comfort” with him. He even confided in Silva when he came out as bisexual, which made their friendship and on-screen relationship even stronger. With 9-1-1: Lone Star and being open about his own journey, Rubinstein shared with PEOPLE that he’s hoping to inspire others to fully embrace themselves.
“I’ve spoken to so many firefighters and cops in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and they’re like, ‘You’re the first person we’ve ever seen ourselves in.’ That’s unbelievable. I always say if I maybe had a Tarlos growing up, things might have been different. There are still so many little Ronens out there who are terrified. I’m going to keep fighting for them until they don’t have to be afraid anymore. My job is to make people feel comfortable with themselves and know that they’re not alone.”
Besides being an actor, Rubinstein is an environmentalist and activist. Following Hurricane Sandy, he decided to become a climate activist and sustainability advocate. He’s an ambassador for the nonprofit organization The Ocean Cleanup, which develops advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic, and Project Zero, a charity organization that works to turn the tide on the climate crisis. He also serves as a co-chair for Turnup Activism, a non-profit social network app that aims to engage young people in activism.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in March of 2020, the actor created a global charitable candle light initiative in support of the healthcare workers and first responders on the frontlines of the pandemic, getting help from the FOX network and his fellow co-stars from 9-1-1: Lone Star and 9-1-1. For the 2020 election, Rubinstein teamed up with Michelle Obama’s non-partisan voter registration organization, When We All Vote, which aims to increase participation in elections. Rubinstein is also on the app Cameo, where fans can book personalized videos from him. Each month he’s donating a portion of the proceeds to a charity or cause of his choice.
Ronen Rubinstein is an inspiring actor in the LGBTQ+ community. With his work on 9-1-1: Lone Star, his activism, and beyond, he is a shining example of representation in the community. The fan support over the years is partly why he came out and his bond with them is a special one. Rubinstein’s dedication to his roles and the fans make him genuine, and his passion about the environment show how much he cares. Just like his character on 9-1-1: Lone Star, Rubinstein is being highlighted in the Pride Month Spotlight because of what he represents, and it will be interesting to see what he does next.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Pride Spotlight!