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How Naya Rivera's 'Glee' Character Helped Me Realize I Wasn't Broken

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On July 8, actress, singer and model Naya Rivera — best known for playing Santana Lopez on “Glee” — was reported missing. Rivera, 33, had been on a boat on Lake Piru with her 4-year-old son, Josey. They were swimming in the lake, and authorities now think the current became too strong while they were in the water.

Rivera was able to get Josey, who was wearing a life jacket, back onto the boat, but unfortunately could not do the same for herself. Another boater found him sleeping by himself on the boat. Josey told him that his mom wasn’t able to make it back. Once the boat was searched they discovered her adult sized life jacket and identification.

After search and rescue efforts were used on the lake, a body was found the morning of July 13. Later that day, the Ventura County Sheriff confirmed that the remains that were found were Rivera’s and that she sadly passed away. Coincidentally it was the seven year anniversary of the death of her “Glee” co-star, Corey Monteith.

River’s breakthrough role was playing a Latina, lesbian cheerleader on the TV show, “Glee.” Her character had a huge impact on the LGBTQA+ community. For many, myself included, she was the first female person of color we saw openly struggling with navigating her sexuality and coming out on screen.

When you’re able to closely identify with a character who’s going through a lot of the same things you struggle with internally, you tend to develop an attachment to that character. She gave me hope while I was still closeted. She showed me that you may lose some people who are important to you when you come out and that you can still survive it, even though it’s painful. And being able to see a happy and loving lesbian relationship between Santana and Brittany is how I learned that it is possible to find genuine love as a lesbian.

In season 3, episode 7, Santana comes out to her grandmother. One of the things she said really hit home with me:

“[Being gay] makes every day feel like a war. I walk around so mad at the world, but I’m really just fighting with myself. And I don’t want to fight anymore, I’m just too tired. I have to just be me.”

The first time I heard this I burst into tears thinking, “That’s exactly how I feel. I’m not broken, other people experience the same thing.”

Rivera’s character, Santana Lopez, definitely played a huge part in my life growing up. She led me to pursue learning who I am as opposed to just trying to fit into the mold that everyone else had made for me. She showed me that there is nothing more freeing than being who you truly are. It’s hard, but in the end it is definitely worth it. Naya Rivera will be missed by many, those who were a direct part of her life and those whose lives she’s touched by playing a queer POC on screen.

Originally published: July 14, 2020
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