As the cast of Glee reunited to pay tribute to the late Naya Rivera at the virtual GLAAD Media Awards on Thursday night, her former cast mates and friends, including Demi Lovato (a guest star on the show), Heather Morris, Jenna Ushkowitz, Jessalyn Gilsig, and Matthew Morrison, lauded her as both a mother and an LGBTQ advocate.
During a time when teen LGBTQ representation in the media was sorely lacking, Rivera’s character Santana Lopez blazed a trail as an openly gay teenager. Her advocacy and allyship, as well as her courage in taking on what some felt was a controversial character, were a touchstone for gay teens in the early 2010s. Lovato, who briefly played Santana’s girlfriend, also noted how much the role meant to her before she came out as queer.
During the award ceremony, however, her fellow Glee alums noted that there was another role she played with excellence. “Her best role was being a mom,” said Ushkowitz, who played Tina Cohen-Chang on the show. “That was the most fulfilling to see her do that.”
Rivera’s son, Josey, who she shared with former husband Ryan Dorsey, was 4 when Rivera died in an accidental drowning at a California lake last summer.
Matthew Morrison who played Mr. Schuester remembered Rivera as a friend both during and after their time together on the show. “Naya and I were good friends on the show but I think we became much better friends when we both had children,” he said. “To see her put all that energy into her son was an incredible sight to see and something I’ll always remember.”
Gilsig shared a statement prepared by Rivera’s mother, who was unable to attend the ceremony, remembering when she learned that the character of Santana would be gay. “When Naya was told that Santana would be a lesbian, she called me to let me know and I asked her how did she feel about that and she said, ‘I feel great about it.’ Little did we know that she would impact so many people in the LGBTQ community,” read the statement. “Her desire was to always be an advocate to those who did not have a voice. I don’t believe that she realized how important she was to this world. I am grateful that my eldest daughter helped to change the landscape of how we view and see each other.”
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