Glee cast reflect on Naya Rivera’s incredible legacy ahead of reunion tribute

Naya Rivera and Kevin McHale on Glee. (FOX Image Collection via Getty Images)

Glee stars Jenna Ushkowitz and Heather Morris have reflected on the incredible legacy of Naya Rivera ahead of a tribute at the GLAAD Media Awards.

The cast of Glee will reunite virtually to deliver a powerful tribute to Rivera, who tragically died in a drowning accident last year, at the GLAAD awards on Friday (9 April).

The tribute is expected to focus on the impact Naya Rivera’s Glee character Santana Lopez had on LGBT+ youth to mark the 10-year anniversary of her character’s momentous coming out.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly ahead of the reunion, Ushkowitz and Morris spoke about rallying the wider Glee cast to take part in the tribute to Rivera.

Ushkowitz, who played Tina Cohen-Chang on Glee, said she orchestrated the GLAAD reunion because she wanted to pay tribute to Rivera.

“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,” Ushkowitz told Entertainment Weekly.

“So, 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.”

Morris said Glee fans helped them to see “where Naya’s heart really was”.

“They knew that GLAAD was really important to her. They also knew how important the Brittana relationship was.

Morris also revealed that she still receives messages from LGBT+ fans about the impact her on-screen relationship with Rivera had on them.

Glee star Naya Rivera ‘marked a lot of fans’ lives’

“I get so many messages on Twitter and Instagram of people telling me it was their coming out day, celebrating themselves. I’m getting all of it in these last six, seven years since the show finished – how much it really meant to people and how it continues to help people’s lives, save people, and it brings tears to my eyes every time somebody sends me a message.”

Ushkowitz added: “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.

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 honour 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.”

Demi Lovato will introduce the Glee cast for the hotly-anticipated reunion tribute on Friday, which will feature 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.

Glee fans across the world were left in shock in July 2020 when Naya Rivera went missing after taking a boat out on Lake Piru in California. Days later, her body was discovered. An autopsy report found that she had died by accidental drowning.