Sep. 2, 2011 -- Transgender activist Chaz Bono is speaking out for the first time against critics who say he should not be allowed to compete in the upcoming season of ABC reality show "Dancing With the Stars."
"It's made me realize I'm really glad I'm doing this, because America really needs to see this," Bono told ABC News yesterday outside a Los Angeles, Calif., theater where he and his professional dance partner, Lacey Schwimmer, were on a break from production for the show, scheduled to premiere Monday, Sep. 19, on ABC.
His selection by the show's producers to be among the cast of 12 celebrities set to appear on the hit show's 13th season, and his partnering with a female dancer, have grabbed headlines and drawn the high-intensity ire of some "Dancing" fans and conservative media groups.
Bono, the 42-year-old son of Cher and the late Sonny Bono, underwent a female-to-male gender transition, and legally changed his gender last year.
Since Monday's season 13 cast announcement and Wednesday's pro-pairing revelations, the expected lightning rod of having only the second openly gay man, Carson Kressley, in the show's history, the first being singer Lance Bass, included in this season's lineup has been overshadowed by the casting of Bono.
"We will not be able to watch the show with Chaz on there," Monica Cole, director of OneMillionMoms.com told "Inside Edition" on Wednesday. "This is going to be very confusing for children, and should not be included in their cast."
The online group is calling for a boycott of the show, writing on its website that the casting of Bono "is completely unacceptable and Christians should not watch the show, no excuses!"
Bono made headlines in 2009 when he announced his intentions to switch from female to male through hormonal and surgical procedures.
Bono, currently engaged to longtime love Jennifer Elia, says the current controversy is motivating him even more to share the truth about transgender people, and his new life.
"You know, it just kind of shows why for me it's important to be on the show, because so little still is known about what it means to be transgender," he told ABC News. "And there's so many just completely inaccurate stereotypes and thoughts that people have."
While Bono uses his critics' comments as motivation, his team is hitting back against the online groups and comments calling for Bono's ouster from the show.
"What I tell people to do, my clients, is ignore it. It's people writing on a bathroom wall," Bono adviser Howard Bragman said today on "Good Morning America," singling out OneMillionMoms.com as one group considered to be a "hate group" by many. "A lot of people put their hate opinions on email, and the vast majority of it is anonymous."
Bragman said parents should instead use his client's inclusion in the show as a teachable moment.
"Watching Chaz Bono dance is not going to make your kid transgender," Bragman told "GMA." "But what it can do is possibly save your kids life because young transgender kids, kids with gender identity issues, have a huge suicide rate and if they see one positive influence, one positive role model, this can save lives and that's why Chaz is here."
"No way he's going to back down," Bragman added. "This has really reinforced his decision to be on the show."
Cher, 'DWTS' Competitors Defend Bono
Also hitting back is Bono's mother, Cher, who gave birth to then-Chastity Bono 42 years ago.
The singer has defended her son on Twitter, saying "it took guts" to participate in the celebrity ballroom dancing show.
"Chaz is being viciously attacked on blogs and message boards about being on DWTS!" she wrote.
She urged her 340,000 followers to pledge their support for Bono on other social media sites.
"I support him no matter what he chooses 2do," Cher tweeted. "It took courage to do DWTS!"
She added that "mothers don't stop getting angry with stupid bigots" who hurt their children, but said she was sure the "vast majority of people will love Chaz" on the show.
Bono replied to the comments on his Twitter page saying: "Thanks for all your support mom. The haters are just motivating me to work harder and stay on DWTS as long as I possibly can."
So far, Bono's celebrity competitors on the show are sticking behind him as well.
"Unless Chaz commits a felony, I don't have a problem," HLN legal analyst and talk show host Nancy Grace told ABC News. ""I just don't think it's our business to be judging other people for their personal decisions. "
"I met Chaz, he's an absolutely lovely person and I'm just waiting to see how he dances," she added.
Besides Bono, Kressley and Grace, the Season 13 cast includes basketball star Ron Artest; World Cup soccer player Hope Solo; reality stars Robert Kardashian and Kristin Cavallari; TV personality Ricki Lake; singer-actress Chynna Phillips; actors David Arquette and J.R. Martinez; and Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, better known in the United States as George Clooney's ex-girlfriend.
The man responsible for including Bono in that celebrity lineup, "Dancing With the Stars" executive producer Conrad Green, hopes the voting public will put their personal opinions aside and let Bono's dance moves do the talking.
"We think Chaz is a great guy with a really interesting story," Green told ABC. "One of the great strengths of our show is your ability to have preconceived ideas about people, but when you actually see them in the show, you might well end up with a different opinion of them."
The first test to see whether America is ready to accept a transgender dancing celebrity will come Tuesday, Sep. 20, when the couple with the lowest combined judges' scores and public votes for their performance will be sent home in the "Dancing with the Stars: The Results Show," at 9 p.m. ET.
"All I can do is share my experience, strength and hope," Bono said. "That's all I'm trying to do."
Watch the two-hour season premiere, Monday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. ET and visit abc.com for more information on "Dancing With the Stars" Season 13.