Gay Culture: Naya Rivera’s Santana Lopez on Glee, Queer Icon

Naya Rivera, Santana Lopez on ‘Glee,’ Declared Dead at 33

Naya Rivera, the Grammy-nominated singer and actress best known for her role as Santana Lopez on Glee, was declared dead Monday at the age of 33.

A body was recovered Monday at Lake Piru in Southern California, the site where actress went missing last Wednesday while boating with her 4-year-old son. Divers recovered the body around 9:30 a.m. floating on the surface of the water, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Ayub confirmed the body recovered was that of Rivera’s during a Monday press conference. “Our hearts go out to her family, friends and fans during this difficult time. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of her death.”

Naya Rivera is being remembered in the media obituaries as a “former Glee star,” but for many queer women she has been much more.

Her sudden tragic death has sent a wave of profound sadness across what was once a vibrant and vital fandom.  It’s a reminder how much it means when the people who portray LGBTQ characters become fierce advocates for that very same community.

Rivera’s Glee character, Santana Lopez, was always written to be devastating — the smoking hot cheerleader with the razor-sharp wit and bitch-with-pom-poms attitude.



Naya Rivera

Over the course of the show’s six seasons, she became a beacon to lesbian, bisexual and questioning fans, especially young Latinx and Black fans, many of whom were seeing themselves for the first time.

Naya Rivera, Santana Lopez on ‘Glee,’ Declared Dead at 33

Her character’s evolution on the show was also proof of the power of fandom. She may have never become such a queer icon without it.

Consider the relationship between Rivera’s Santana and her best friend and fellow cheerleader Brittany S. Pierce (played by Heather Morris).

Jane Lynch, who starred alongside Rivera on Glee as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, paid tribute to the actress on Twitter writing, “Rest Sweet, Naya. What a force you were. Love and peace to your family.”

Chris Colfer, who starred in Glee as Kurt Hummel, wrote: “How can you convey all your love and respect for someone in one post? How can you summarize a decade of friendship and laughter with words alone? If you were friends with Naya Rivera, you simply can’t. Her brilliance and humor were unmatched. Her beauty and talent were otherworldly. She spoke truth to power with poise and fearlessness. She could turn a bad day into a great day with a single remark. She inspired and uplifted people without even trying. Being close to her was both a badge of honor and a suit of armor. Naya was truly one of a kind, and she always will be.”