The tribute was opened by Demi Lovato, who had a brief role on the Fox series alongside Rivera.
“I don’t have to tell you that this year was a tough, tough year,” Lovato said. “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 ground-breaking for closeted queer girls — like I was at the time,” she went on. “And her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world.”
Lovato then introduced the “Glee” cast: Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Jessalyn Gilsig, Dot-Marie Jones, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin and Jenna Ushkowitz, who remembered Rivera and the impact she had on queer youth in her role on “Glee.”
Lynch recalled when Rivera was first brought on as a series regular on “Glee,” thinking that she was “cute and a great dancer.” “And then [‘Glee’ co-creator] Ryan [Murphy] started giving her lines, and I was like, ‘Wow. This girl is really something.’”
The cast also made a point to pay tribute to the other major role in Rivera’s life: being a mother to her son, Josey.
“Naya and I were good friends on the show,” Morrison said. “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.”
They also celebrated the 10th anniversary of Santana’s coming-out storyline on “Glee,” during a time where there was little LGBTQ representation on television — especially when it came to queer people of color.
“That scene when Santana came out to her grandmother and was rejected, it still makes me cry,” Lengies said.
Rivera’s mother, Yolanda Previtire, could not attend the tribute, but left a message that was read by Gilsig.
“Her desire was to always be an advocate to those who did not have a voice,” the message read, in part. “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.”
Watch the full tribute below.