Non-binary actors J Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell make history with Tony Award nominations

Non-binary actors J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell.

Actors J Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell have made LGBTQ+ history as the first two non-binary performers to be nominated for a Tony Award.

Nominations for the Tony Awards, which celebrate the best of broadway performances in the US, were announced yesterday (2 May), with the two actors since praising the theatre industry’s move towards inclusion.

J Harrison Ghee, who uses all pronouns, was nominated in the ‘best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical’ category for their role as Jerry/Daphne in the Prohibition-inspired jazz musical Some Like It Hot.

J. Harrison Ghee performs with Mariah Carey during a special showing of Some Like It Hot.
J. Harrison Ghee performs with Mariah Carey during a special showing of Some Like It Hot. (Getty/Bruce Glikas)

Alex Newell, who also uses all pronouns, is up for a Tony Award for ‘best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical’ for their role as Lulu in Shucked, a musical love story centred around a corn farm with a corn shortage.

While the nominations indicate a slow step forward for non-binary representation on-stage, they have also sparked conversation about the fact that the Tonys still use gendered categories.

Earlier this year, non-binary & Juliet Broadway star Justin David Sullivan decided to withdraw from the Tony consideration list due to the gendered categories, while The New York Times has reported that Billions actor Asia Kate Dillon, who starred in Macbeth last year, asked to be removed from the actor and actress categories in 2022.

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Justin David Sullivan
Justin David Sullivan pulled out of the consideration process for the Tony Awards (Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

Speaking about their nomination, Newell explained that they decided to put themself forward in the actor category as the term is frequently used in a gender-neutral context.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Newell said of the Tonys finally nominating a non-binary performer. “There are so many gender non-conforming and non-binary performers that might not ever get to shine because of these gendered categories.

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Similarly, Ghee decided to put themself forward in the actor categories, suggesting that they are unaffected by “somebody else’s compartmentalisation” of them.

“I’m always going to show up in the fullness of the human that I am,” Ghee explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “So I’m just walking in my truth and standing tall in that. I was confident that wherever you put me I will rise to the occasion.

“It’s such an honour. I just continue to live in the four-fold way of living. I show up, tell my truth in present and I’m not attached to the outcome… I hope to inspire more freedom, more space to free ourselves.

There’s room to expand and continue to have conversations, which I’m grateful are being had and people are opening their eyes. So we’re moving in the right direction.”

In an Instagram story, Ghee also shared that their “heart is so full” at the nomination, adding that it’s the “best feeling ever”.

Other performances nominated at this year’s Tony Awards include Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer, Interstellar’s Jessica Chastain, and Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt.

The 2023 Tony Awards will take place on 11 June, hosted by Ariana DeBose.

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