Glee cast and Demi Lovato reunite for touching, heartfelt tribute to ‘awe-inspiring’ Naya Rivera

Glee Naya Rivera tribute

The cast of Glee came together virtually to deliver a touching tribute to their late co-star Naya Rivera at the GLAAD Media Awards on Thursday.

Naya Rivera, who played Santana Lopez on the show, tragically died in July 2020 by accidental drowning while swimming in Lake Piru, California.

The actress won the hearts of queer people across the world with her portrayal of lesbian teenager Santana – and she even hosted the GLAAD Awards twice during her lifetime.

In a powerful virtual discussion, Rivera’s Glee co-stars reflected on her incredible legacy – and discussed the impact her character had on LGBT+ teenagers.

Demi Lovato reflected on the ‘heartbreak’ of losing Glee icon Naya Rivera

Demi Lovato kicked off the tribute by thanking the LGBT+ community “for standing up this year to insist on change through our voices and through our votes.”

“I don’t have to tell you that this year was a tough, tough year. A particular moment of heartbreak stands out for me – losing my friend Naya Rivera,” Lovato said.

“I will always cherish the chance I got to play Naya’s girlfriend Dani on Glee. 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.”

Lovato urged young people watching to “get involved in activism” before introducing the wider cast of Glee.

“Some friends of mine got together so they could remember Naya and remind you: Don’t stop believing. Here’s the cast of Glee,” she said.

Appearing virtually, the cast of Glee recounted their experiences of working with Naya Rivera and reflected on her incredible vocal talent.

Lauren Potter said she was “always in awe” of Rivera’s talent, while Darren Criss said there was “always just so much more than met the eye with Naya”.

Jane Lynch reflected on the early days on set, explaining: “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, and then Ryan started giving her lines and I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is really something.'”

Becca Tobin, Jenna Ushkowitz and Alex Newell spoke of the magnetic quality Rivera had when she was performing, and each actor reflected on the first time they saw her sing live.

“She made everybody laugh on screen and off, but the real win was if you made her laugh because you knew she actually did something really funny,” Ushkowitz said.

The cast also spoke of Rivera’s love of motherhood. Ushkowitz said being a mother to Josey Hollis Dorsey was her “best role”, while Matthew Morrison said he and Rivera became closer friends in later years when they both had children.

“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.

The cast also looked back at the significance of Rivera’s character coming out as a lesbian a decade ago.

Her desire was to always be an advocate to those who did not have a voice. I don’t believe that she realised how important she was to this world.

“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,” Chris Colfer said, while Alex Newell noted that there were “almost no LGBT+ teens on television” at the time.

Closing out the tribute, Jessalyn Gilsig read out a moving tribute written by Rivera’s mother Yolanda Previtire, in which she said her daughter would have been “honoured” to have her work recognised at the GLAAD Media Awards.

“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 said in the written statement.

“Little did we know that she would impact on 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 realised how important she was to this world.

“I am grateful that my eldest daughter helped to change the landscape of how we view and see each other. Thank you GLAAD for keeping my daughter’s legacy alive.”