Story at a glance

  • Naya Rivera is presumed dead after going missing during a boat trip with her son.
  • Rivera is most known for her role as a lesbian cheerleader in Glee, which was a groundbreaking role for the time.
  • The actress has been vocal in her allyship and contributions to the LGBTQ+ community.

Actress Naya Rivera, 33, is presumed dead after going missing while boating at Lake Piru in Ventura County, Calif., with her four-year-old son. Just two days earlier, she had shared a photograph of them on Twitter. 

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After her son was found alone on the boat, local law enforcement began a search that continued into the next day, when Ventura County Sheriff Deputy Chris Dyer told reporters search and rescue efforts had shifted to a recovery operation. 

"We're presuming that an accident happened and we're presuming she drowned in the lake," Ventura County Sheriff Deputy Chris Dyer said at a news conference Thursday. "The goal is still to bring Miss Rivera home to her family." 

The former Glee star began her career as a child actress and model and found fame as Santana Lopez, a high school student that came out as lesbian in the second season of the show, a rare role portraying an LGBTQ+ woman of color on television at that time. 


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On social media, past co-stars shared support for Rivera’s family and prayers that she would be found. 

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Her character was groundbreaking in many ways, boldly taking on conversations about sexuality and other taboo subjects. In her 2016 memoir, "Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes and Growing Up," the actress opened up further about having an abortion and recovering from an eating disorder. And in an essay published on Billboard during Pride month, Rivera wrote a "love letter to the LGBTQ community."

“We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it," she said. 

After five seasons on the show, Rivera moved on, acting in several other films and series, launching a singing career and continuing to be a staunch advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. She hosted and co-hosted the GLAAD Media Awards in multiple cities and has worked numerous charities, including the Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention. 

In 2015, she gave birth to her son with actor Ryan Dorsey, who she later divorced. That same year, she made headlines for a remark as a guest host on “The View,” after Rosie O’Donnell raised a study alleging that bisexual women were more likely to have mental health problems than lesbians. 

"Rosie, no wonder I'm crazy. This just solves it all," Rivera responded, raising questions regarding her own sexuality. 

But her personal life aside, fans remembered the effect of her career on their own lives. Martha Sorren, a freelance writer, wrote an article in 2019 on how the lesbian romance between Rivera's character and another character, Brittany, on "Glee" validated her own sexuality. While the show had growing pains and made several missteps in its portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters and relationships, Sorren said its impact remains. 

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"Fan support for LGBTQ+ representation matters now, and it did 10 years ago, too. Because queer fans advocated for themselves, Brittany and Santana's Glee plotline evolved from a joke to a real romance that affected many of us deeply," she said. 


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Published on Jul 09, 2020