How Glee star Naya Rivera touched LGBTQ lives
When Glee star Naya Rivera was reported missing after a boat trip with her four-year old son at Lake Piru, near Santa Clarita, California, the lesbian community reeled in shock from the news.
And when Rivera’s death was confirmed, many of our numbers mourned her loss, remembering her portrayal of Santana Lopez, whose character came out on the TV show Glee.
Portraying a TV character coming out
Rivera portrayed Santana, a cheerleader who came out and started a relationship with fellow cheerleader Brittany (played by Heather Morris), becoming “Brittana” to the fans.
Rivera– as the Glee actress– became a fan favorite of the lesbian community despite marrying Ryan Dorsey and only hinting to being a bisexual on The View in 2015.
Writing for the Advocate, Becca Damante said, “It’s a strange feeling to mourn the loss of someone you never knew personally, but as I scrolled through my Twitter feed yesterday, it became even clearer to me how much Naya Rivera impacted the LGBTQ+ community.”
“Like many other queer women, Rivera’s portrayal of Santana Lopez on Glee fostered my coming out experience and for that, I will forever be indebted to her,” Damante noted.
This is because Santana and Brittany “were one of the first femme-femme couples that allowed me to see that I fit somewhere within the LGBTQ community,” she explained.
Naya Rivera and the LGBTQ community
Meanwhile, Dorothy Snarker writing a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, explained “how much it means when the people who portray LGBTQ characters become fierce advocates for that very same community.”
Snarker said Rivera “became a beacon to lesbian, bisexual and questioning fans, especially young Latinx and Black fans, many of whom were seeing themselves onscreen for the first time.”
Snarker also tied in the show’s LGBTQ fans to the evolution of Santana’s character, citing it as “proof of the power of fandom in the early days of social media.”
“In fact, she may have never become such a queer icon without it,” she said, adding that the fans “willed the onscreen relationship into existence” between Rivera’s Santana and Morris’ Brittany.
Snarker further said that their relationship was different from previous ones like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess because Glee was a major network show.
Likewise, Snarker pointed out that Rivera’s “embrace of her lesbian, bisexual and queer viewers was never in question. She attended (and hosted) the GLAAD Media Awards and spoke out in interviews.”
Naya Rivera as Santana as a queer woman
For Christina Tucker, writing an op-ed for Teen Vogue, Rivera’s portrayal as Santana helped LGBTQ people of color.
“Santana Lopez was a gift to queer people of color because we finally got to see ourselves on screen, and it opened up the possibility that we could not only exist, but thrive,” Tucker explained.
“Naya’s unabashed support of the LGBTQ community in real life only made that possibility more tangible,” she added.
She further pointed out that Santana’s characteristic as an “angry bitch” was important, citing the character’s line to Brittany: “I am angry because I have all these feelings for you that I am afraid of dealing with.”
Tucker explained: “Like I felt my anger melt away after coming out, Santana’s defensive, reactionary bitchiness was something many queer people can understand.”