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'Glee' cast reunites to pay tribute to late Naya Rivera at GLAAD Media Awards

Thursday's tribute marked 10 years since Rivera's character Santana Lopez came out on the show.
FOX's "Glee" - Season Five
"Glee" cast members Jenna Ushkowitz, Chord Overstreet, Darren Criss, Melissa Benoist, Jacob Artist, Naya Rivera and Alex Newell, Blake Jenner, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, Becca Tobin and Kevin McHale.FOX / FOX Image Collection via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

The cast of “Glee” reunited during the virtual ceremony for the GLAAD Media Awards for a special tribute to the legacy of the late Naya Rivera’s character Santana Lopez on Thursday night.

Rivera, 33, tragically drowned in California’s Lake Piru last summer.

For years, Rivera played Lopez, a cheerleader who was also in show choir. Her character eventually fell in love with and married a fellow singing cheerleader Brittany S. Pierce, played by Heather Morris.

Morris was among several of Rivera's surviving castmates on hand for the tribute, including Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin and Jenna Ushkowitz.

“Glee,” which aired from 2009-2015, was nominated six times for outstanding comedy series at the GLAAD Media Awards and won twice. The awards are meant to “honor media for fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of LGBTQ people and issues,” GLAAD said in a March release.

Heather Morris (L) and Naya Rivera in the "New Directions" episode of "Glee" that aired March 25, 2014.FOX / FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

Thursday's tribute marked 10 years since Santana Lopez came out on the show and was meant to “spotlight the character’s impact on LGBTQ teens and Latinx LGBTQ representation on television.”

The cast was introduced by pop star Demi Lovato, who also has a connection to the show. She portrayed a love interest of Rivera’s character in season five.

Rivera on "Watch What Happens Live" in 2019.Charles Sykes/Bravo / NBCU Photo Bank

"The character Naya played, Santana, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls like I was at the time," Lovato said in her introduction. "And her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world. That’s the power of a show like 'Glee.'"

Rivera's castmates echoed those sentiments, saying how important her character had been and reiterating what a light the late actor had been in their lives.

"When Naya passed and all these messages came in over social media, the messages were sort of all the same," Kevin McHale said. "She would treat (a stranger) like how she treated me, someone that she saw every day, or like her family."

The cast of "Glee" at Paramount Studios on July 20, 2009 in Los Angeles.Vera Anderson / WireImage

Rivera's mother, Yolanda Previtire, also provided the awards with the following statement:

"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 change the landscape of how we view and see each other."