Demi Lovato opened up the virtual tribute by highlighting the impact of Rivera’s Glee character, Santana Lopez, a high school cheerleader who came out as lesbian 10 years ago. Lovato, who portrayed Lopez’s girlfriend Dani in later seasons, recalled the ways in which Rivera’s character helped her and other young audiences within the Latinx LGBTQ community.
“I don’t have to tell you that this year was a tough, tough year,” said Lovato, who identifies as pansexual. “A particular moment of heartbreak stands out for me: losing my friend Naya Rivera. 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. Her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world.”
Lovato then introduced the rest of the Glee cast, including Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Heather Morris, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Jenna Ushkowitz, and Matthew Morrison, who played William McKinley High School Glee Club director Will Schuester.
“Naya and I were good friends on the show,” Morrison said, before touching on Rivera’s role as a mother, “but I think we became much better friends when we both had children and to see her put all that energy into her son was just an incredible sight to see and something I’ll always remember.”
“Her best role was her being a mom,” Ushkowitz added. “That was the most fulfilling to see her do that.”
Rivera died in July 2020 while boating with her then-4-year-old son, Josey. Authorities recovered her body days after she was reported missing, and concluded she had died of accidental drowning. The 33-year-old actress had hosted the GLAAD Awards twice: once on her own in 2011 and then in 2012 with Glee co-star Cory Monteith, who died in 2013.
Glee star Jessalyn Gilsig (Terri Schuester) then read a message prepared by Rivera’s mother, Yolanda Previtire.
The message read in part: “Naya would be honored to receive this recognition. 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!’ Little did we know that she would impact 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 realized 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.”
You can watch the full tribute above.