After the tragic news of Naya Rivera’s death in 2020, the cast of Glee and Demi Lovato decided to honor the late actress and the legacy of her character, Santana Lopez, at the 2021 GLAAD Media Awards on Thursday night (April 8).
Opening the segment, Lovato, who briefly played Rivera’s onscreen girlfriend on Glee, remembered her co-star fondly, while remarking on the importance of her character to the LGBTQ community. “The character Naya played, Santana Lopez, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls, like I was at the time,” she said. “Her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world. That’s the power of a show like Glee.“
Lovato then took the moment to call on queer youth to start getting more involved with activism, especially in the spirit of Rivera and her character. “Let’s use our power to move the Equality Act forward,” she said. “It’s been 10 years since Santana Lopez came out; look at what LGBTQ teens have done in a decade. Imagine what they can do in the next one.”
The singer then passed the mic to a massive Zoom call with the cast of Glee, including actors Jane Lynch, Darren Criss, Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Jenna Ushkowitz, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Harry Shum Jr., Jacob Artist, Vanessa Lengies and Becca Tobin. There, the castmembers all took turns saying hello and complimenting each other’s outfits, before moving on to celebrating the life of their late castmate.
“I remember when Naya became a regular castmember,” said Lynch, who played tyrannical cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. “She was a dancer, and I always thought she was cute and she was a great dancer. And then Ryan [Murphy, the creator of Glee] started giving her lines, and I was like, ‘Wow. This girl is really something.’”
The cast also reflected on the impact of Rivera’s character, Santana Lopez, who was an out-and-proud Latina lesbian teenager — something the cast recognized was unheard of at the time. “With the exception of our show, there were almost no LGBTQ teens on television at the time,” said Alex Newell, who played transgender student Unique Adams on the the show. Heather Morris, who played Santana’s main love interest Brittany Pearce, added that “as an ally, Naya was so honored to represent them.”
Toward the end of their segment, the cast shared a note from Rivera’s mother Yolanda Previtire, who said that the young actress was proud to have a role through which LGBTQ kids felt seen. “Her desire was always to be an advocate for those who did not have a voice,” the note read. “I don’t believe 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.”
Watch the full tribute to Naya Rivera below: