The cast of “Glee” reunited Thursday night, as part of the virtual GLAAD Media Awards, for a special tribute to late co-star Naya Rivera.
The tribute was kicked off by Demi Lovato, who had a recurring role on Season 5 of the Fox musical sitcom as Dani, who briefly dated Rivera’s Santana Lopez.
“I will always cherish the chance I got to play Naya’s girlfriend Dani on ‘Glee,’” Lovato said. “The character Naya played, Santana Lopez, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls, like I was at the time. And her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world.”
The singer continued, “It’s been 10 years since Santana Lopez came out. Look at what LGBTQ teens have done in a decade. Imagine what we can do in the next one. Some friends of mine got together so they could remember Naya and remind you, don’t stop believing.”
Original “Glee” cast members Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Jessalyn Gilsig, Dot-Marie Jones, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin and Jenna Ushkowitz then appeared via individual Zoom windows to share their memories of Rivera, who tragically died last July at age 33 in a boating accident.
“I remember when Naya became a regular cast member,” Lynch said. “She was a dancer and I always thought she was cute and she was a great dancer. And then [“Glee” creator Ryan Murphy] started giving her lines and I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is really something.’”
The cast also reflected on Santana Lopez’s legacy as a queer icon for the LGBTQ community, noting that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the feisty cheerleader coming out as a lesbian — a seminal moment for many fans.
Newell remarked, “With the exception of our show, there were almost no LGBTQ teens on television at the time,” to which Shum Jr. added, “Especially young, Latina, LGBTQ women.” Morris, who played Rivera’s on-screen girlfriend (and eventual wife) Brittany, said, “As an ally, Naya was so honored to represent them.”
Lynch added, “Things are getting better. Every year there’s more LGBTQ representation on TV and more diverse representation, which leads to more acceptance and more kindness.”
The cast then shared a statement from Rivera’s mother, Yolanda Previtire, who remarked that her daughter always fully embraced the LGBTQ community. (The actress even hosted the GLAAD Media Awards twice, once with late “Glee” co-star Cory Monteith.)
“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!’” Previtire wrote in her statement. “Little did we know that she would impact so many people in the LGBTQ community. 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.”
The tribute culminated in the “Glee” cast announcing the winner of the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, which the Fox sitcom won twice during its six-season run. This year’s prize went to “Schitt’s Creek.”