The Tony Awards happened last night and the LGBTQ+ community received some historic wins.
Theater’s brightest stars showed up and showed out for the 76th Tony Awards on Sunday. The exquisite affair, designed to honor theater excellence in acting and technical performance, took place at the United Palace Theater in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. With Oscar winner and Tony nominee Ariana DeBose hosting the unscripted ceremony, there were plenty of surprises, including no straight men winning acting awards. Honestly, it’s a Pride month miracle.
J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell became the first nonbinary actors to win Tony Awards in acting. Ghee took home the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical and Newell won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical respectively. Ghee, who snagged the acting accolade for their performance as Jerry/Daphne in the Broadway musical Some Like it Hot, dedicated their win to trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people.
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“My mother raised me to understand that the gifts God gave me were not about me,” said Ghee. “To use them to be effective in the world. For every trans, nonbinary, gender non-conforming human — whoever was told they couldn’t be, couldn’t be seen, this is for you. Some Like It Hot and that ain’t bad.”
When Newell, who won for their performance as Lulu in Shucked, took to the Tony Awards stage, they thanked the world of Broadway for seeing them as the queer, non-binary, fat, Black theatre powerhouse that they are.
“Thank you for seeing me Broadway,” said Newell. “I should not be up here as a queer, non-binary, fat, Black, little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone that thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face that you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Interestingly enough, another performance category was full of queer excellence. Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play and Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play were won by openly gay men. Sean Hayes walked away with the best actor award in a leading role in a play for portraying composer and pianist Oscar Levant in Good Night, Oscar, while Brandon Uranowitz won the supporting actor award in a play for playing dual roles of Ludwig Jakobovicz and Nathan Fischbein in the play Leopoldstadt.
The LGBTQ+ community has flourished within the theatre, film and TV industries, but Ghee and Newell’s historic wins still highlight the highly gendered industry and society that they and many other nonbinary people navigate – the Tony Awards included. Nonbinary & Juliet star Justin David Sullivan withdrew from this year’s Tony Awards eligibility due to not feeling reflected in the gendered acting categories. In 2017, Billions actor Asia Kate Dillon called for the television industry to reconsider gendered award categories and in 2020, they penned a letter to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) calling for them to eliminate gendered categories as well. With more high-profile nonbinary actors achieving critical acclaim, like Bella Ramsey, Emma Corrin, Indya Moore, Mason Alexander Park, and more, conversations around degendering awards continue to surface.
Conversations around degendering awards will continue on. At least it’s safe to say that queer folks were the center of attention at last night’s Tony Awards, regardless of gender.
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