Alex Newell and J Harrison Ghee become first openly non-binary Tony winners: ‘You have to free yourself’

J. Harrison Ghee (L) and Alex Newell (R) make history as first openly non-binary Tony winners.

Broadway stars Alex Newell and J Harrison Ghee have made LGBTQ+ history as the first openly non-binary Tony Award winners.

Sunday’s (11 June) star-studded Tony Awards ceremony saw a well-deserved celebration of queer joy. From Will & Grace star Sean Hayes’ poignant dedication to his husband Scott Icenogle to Parade director Michael Ardern reclaiming the word “f****t” on stage, there was no shortage of LGBTQ+ wins.

Perhaps no one knows that better than Glee alumni Alex Newell and Some Like It Hot star J Harrison Ghee, who blazed a trail as the first openly non-binary actors to win a Tony award.

Newell scooped the Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical award for their turn as Lulu in Shucked, while Ghee took home the win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for their perfomance as Jerry/Daphne in the Broadway production of Some Like It Hot.

Taking to the stage to accept their award, Newell delivered an empowered speech championing trans, non-binary and LGBTQ+ rights.

“I have wanted this my entire life,” they began as the crowd rose to a standing ovation.

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After thanking their mother for loving them “unconditionally” and “teaching them what strength is”, they continued: “Thank you for seeing me, Broadway.

“I should not be up here, as a queer, non-binary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone who thinks they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Newell has been unanimously praised for their jaw-dropping performance of Shucked‘s hit song “Independently Owned”, as well star turns as Unique Adams on Glee and Mo on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.

Elsewhere in the evening, Ghee, who uses they/them pronouns, paid tribute to their mother as they accepted their Tony award.

“My mother raised me to understand that the gifts God gave me were not about me but to use them to be effective in the world, help somebody else’s journey.

“So thank you for teaching me how to live, how to love, how to give. For every trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming human who ever was told you couldn’t be, you couldn’t be seen, this is for you.”

They went onto to thank their fellow cast and crew for “letting me lead” and “letting me bring myself to the work”.

In the press room afterwards, Ghee opened up about their newfound confidence to live authentically, particularly when it comes to their wardrobe.

“I go to my closet every day and I say, ‘What’s the vibe? How do I feel?'” Ghee said, according to Deadline.

“People see me and say, ‘I can never wear that!'” but their response is “you haven’t given yourself the space to do that. You have to free yourself to see yourself.”

As trans, non-binary and LGBTQ+ rights come under attack across the US, people on social media celebrated the importance of not one, but two Black non-binary actors making strides for LGBTQ+ representation.

“The Tonys have been so beautiful this year,” one person wrote. “Celebrating LGBTQ+ folk – and especially trans and non-binary folk – loudly and authentically on national television. They do so every year, but it is especially important this year.”

Others are calling for gender-neutral categories after Newell and Ghee’s wins, not least because in February this year, non-binary Broadway star Justin David Sullivan opted out of Tonys consideration due to gendered categories.

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