Naya Riviera, famously known for playing Santana Lopez on the show GLEE, sadly passed away after accidentally drowning on a river in California. The actress was one of the biggest LGBTQ Tv characters of her time, and her discovery of her sexuality played a major role in helping LGBTQ fans come out.
Naya’s powerful and unapologetic attitude, portrayed through Santana’s character, gave millions of viewers a perspective on the issues that both Latin and LGBTQ people go through.
In the show GLEE, Santana goes through a six-season journey in which she struggles to find her identity and sexuality. Like many of the LGBTQ, she was vulnerable but always strong, almost never allowing herself to show signs of weakness In the episode 2011, she finally came out as a Lesbian in the song “I Kissed a Girl,” when she confronted her feelings for Brittaney Pierce, played by Heather Morris. A moment that shaped the lives of many LGBTQ+ fans.
Among these includes Demi Lovato, who played Santana’s girlfriend in season 5.
“The character you played was groundbreaking for tons of closeted (at the time) queer girls like me, Lovato wrote. “And your ambition and accomplishments were inspiring to Latina women all over the world.”
While Naya wasn’t gay herself, she consistently spoke about her Pride as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community which, did a lot to bring its issues into the mainstream. In 2017, she wrote a love letter to the LGBTQ+ community, stating the following:
“I have been so incredibly fortunate to portray a character on television that has meant so much to so many within the LGBTQ community. Off screen, I am a woman who stands in support of equal rights for all. It has been one of the greatest blessings in my life to receive such love and touching stories as a result of my portrayal of Santana Lopez in Glee.”
While today it is no longer appropriate for straight actors to play gay characters, seeing an LGBTQ character in the time of the show was a step forward for the community, and that’s the way many of her fans describe it.
“I was 12 or 13, I was so young and I was thinking about these things. I was so terrified to say them or ever act on them,” 21-year-old Claire Rowden, who’s bisexual, told BBC.
“It was just a little knock on the door being like, ‘hey, it’s oK, what you’re feeling is real, and it’s special. It’s not something to feel ashamed or uncomfortable about’.”
One fan wrote the following about one of Naya’s scenes on Twitter:
“[It made me feel so much for her and honestly it was the first time I thought about having a girlfriend which were thoughts I didn’t allow myself to have.”