The Glee cast is participating in a virtual reunion as part of Thursday’s GLAAD Media Awards in order to honor the memory of fellow cast member Naya Rivera, who tragically passed away in a drowning accident in July 2020.
The tribute to Rivera will be introduced by Glee guest star Demi Lovato, who played Santana’s girlfriend Danielle. Cast members appearing at the tribute include Jenna Ushkowitz, Heather Morris, Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Jessalyn Gilsig, Dot-Marie Jones, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., and Becca Tobin.
The cast is helping to honor Rivera while participating in a GLAAD event that will highlight Glee’s impact on LGBTQ teenagers (and especially LGBTQ Latinx teens). 2021 marks 10 years since Rivera’s character Santana came out on the show.
Ahead of the reunion, Entertainment Weekly interviewed cast members Jenna Ushkowitz and Heather Morris about Rivera’s lasting impact on the LGBTQ community.
“It’s something to celebrate. It’s something that marked a lot of fans’ lives and affected a lot of people in the fandom because of her bravery as a character and seeing themselves represented on TV,” Ushkowitz, who played Tina Cohen-Chang, said. “Glee was breaking barriers at the time. It’s bittersweet because we miss her so much, and I feel like there was so much more she would have done if she was still around, but the fact that we’re able to pay tribute and honor the work she did do, and the effect she did have on people’s lives, it gives us something to celebrate as well in her remembrance.”
And it is actually Ushkowitz that made this reunion happen. She told EW, “The Santana army is really quite incredible and we’ve talked to many, many fans and they were pushing for some kind of tribute for the work she’s done in the LGBTQ community as Santana and as Naya. After realizing this, I reached out to GLAAD and we were able to craft this really incredible moment pretty quickly because we’re a pretty tight knit crew, so anything for Naya. It’s not hard to rally the troops.”
Heather Morris, who played Santana’s girlfriend Brittany Pierce, said that Rivera always made a point of reaching out and engaging with fans on social media. It’s little wonder, then, that those fans are still so passionate about Rivera and her performance.
“The fans helped us see where Naya’s heart really was,” Morris said. “They knew that GLAAD was really important to her. They also knew how important the Brittana relationship was.”
The Glee reunion and tribute to Naya Rivera will be part of the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards broadcast on GLAAD’s YouTube channel Thursday, April 8 at 8 p.m. ET. Fans who miss out will be able to stream the awards on Hulu from 10 p.m. ET through the end of June.