‘Glee’s Tribute to the Late Naya Rivera Will Break Your Heart

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Last night (April 8) the GLAAD Media Awards broke structure a bit to honor an under-appreciated legend. The awards show honored the 10th anniversary of Glee‘s Santana Lopez’s coming out with a touching tribute to the late Naya Rivera featuring over 13 actors from the Fox show’s original run. Though there wasn’t any singing, the segment was sweet enough to move any Glee fans to tears.

In July of last year the Glee and Step Up star died in a California lake. Rivera drowned while swimming with her four-year-old son. She was 33 at the time of her death.

“I was always in awe of how talented she was,” Lauren Potter, who played Becky, says in the tribute.

“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,” Jane Lynch, the actor behind Sue Sylvester, remembers. “And then Ryan [Murphy] started giving her lines and I was like, ‘Wow. This girl is really something.'”

“Naya and I were good friends on the show but I think we became much better friends when we both had children,” Matthew Morrison, who played Mr. Schuster, says. “To see her put all the energy into her son was just an incredible sight to see and something I’ll always remember.”

The tribute also shared a message from the late Rivera’s mother, Yolanda Previtire. Overall it was a touching tribute to an actor whose work forever changed the history of LGBTQ+ representation on television.

Rivera’s Santana stole the screen during a time when it was rare to have any character represent the LGBTQ+ community, let alone a queer Latinx woman. And she came out in a way that was at once authentic, painful, and true to this complex character. In Season 3’s “I Kissed a Girl”, Santana tells both McKinley and her family that she’s a lesbian. Though she faces harassment at school and acceptance with her friends, the episode’s big moment occurs between Santana and her abuela. After a heated conversation, her family matriarch tells Santana to leave and never return. The episode was notable for portraying the complexities in Santana’s coming out while always keeping her central romantic story with Brittany (Heather Morris) front and center.

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