The cast of Glee is honoring the legacy of the late Naya Rivera at the 2021 GLAAD Media Awards. Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin, Lauren Potter, Dot-Marie Jones, Jessalyn Gilsig and Jenna Ushkowitz reunited at Thursday night’s awards show to celebrate Rivera and the impact her Glee character, Santana Lopez, has had on LGBTQ teens and the LGBTQ community as a whole. Rivera, who played Lopez on Glee from 2009 to 2015, died last July. She was 33.
Demi Lovato — who played Santana’s girlfriend, Dani, on the series — reflected on Rivera’s groundbreaking role, before introducing the cast for their heartfelt tribute to their late castmate.
“I will always cherish the chance I got to play Naya’s girlfriend, Dani, on Glee,” Lovato said fondly. “The character Naya played, Santana Lopez, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls like I was at the time. And her ambition and accomplishments inspire Latina women all over the world. That’s the power of a show like Glee.”
Lynch was wowed by Rivera’s talent on the show, recalling the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy’s, decision to start giving her lines on the musical comedy show.
“I remember when Naya became a regular cast member, she was a dancer. And I always thought she was cute, and she was a great dancer,” Lynch recounted. “And then Ryan [Murphy] stared giving her lines and I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is really something.'”
While other cast members shared their memories of her show-stopping performances, the role they all agreed was her best was that of a mother to her son, Josey.
“Naya and I were good friends on the show, but I think we became much better friends when we both had children and to see her put all that energy into her son was just an incredible sight to see and something I’ll always remember,” Morrison said, with Ushkowitz adding, “Her best role was her being a mom. That was the most fulfilling to see her do that.”
Rivera, who hosted the GLAAD Media Awards twice, was an ally and activist to the LGBTQ community, and at Thursday night’s show, the cast honored the 10th anniversary of Santana’s coming out on Glee, a moment Colfer said many gay kids are all too familiar with.
“Santana basically got disowned by her family, and as a lot of us know, that’s a feeling too many LGBTQ kids know too well,” Colfer said.
Rivera’s character broke the mold for both gay and Latina representation, a role she was proud to play and even prouder to be an ally for. In a statement the late actress’ mother sent in, she reflected on her daughter’s impact on the community and the world.
“I am grateful that my eldest daughter helped to change the landscape of how we view and see each other,” Yolanda Previtire said in the statement.
The cast then went on to present the award for Outstanding Comedy Series, which went to Schitt’s Creek, before completing the tribute.
The virtual ceremony will stream on GLAAD’s YouTube at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Immediately after, you can watch the 2021 GLAAD Media Awards on Hulu beginning at 10 p.m. ET, where the show will be available through the end of June.