It’s a momentous occasion for both actors and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Last month, Alex Newell and J. Harrison Ghee already made history by being the first nonbinary actors to be nominated at the Tony Awards. On Monday, June 12, they both took home the trophy in their respective categories.
Newell, known for their role as Unique in Glee, won the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical. In the musical Shucked, Newell plays Lulu, a fiercely independent whiskey distiller.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Newell, who goes by he/she/they pronouns, said that they chose to enter in the Best Featured Actor category because they wanted to lean towards the more genderless nature of the term.
“Acting is my craft. I am an actor,” they said. “Actor is a genderless word. It truly is. And the last time I checked, we didn’t say plumb-ess for a plumber. We didn’t say I’m going to see my doctor-ress.”
For their acceptance speech, Newell gave thanks to the important people in their life. “I have wanted this my entire life. And I thank each and every one of you in this room. Mommy, I love you. Thank you for believing in me, thank you for loving me unconditionally, thank you for teaching me what strength is.
“To my entire building and cast and crew of Shucked, you are my rock. I love you all. Thank you for seeing me. Broadway, I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts,” they continued.
“And to anyone that thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face and tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to.”
J. Harrison Ghee
Later in the show, Ghee took home the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Ghee stars in the revival of Some Like It Hot as Jerry/Daphne. The musical is based on the 1959 film starring Marilyn Monroe.
The actor made their Broadway debut in 2017 as Lola in Kinky Boots, a drag queen who helps save a failing shoe factory. Ghee’s role in Some Like It Hot also features a character in drag. What was first a disguise led the character to discovering something within himself in his newfound persona.
When Time asked about their experience with drag, Ghee said, “I’m always trying to be intentional with everything that I do, and especially with drag, and so it was my way of: How am I ministering to people? How am I reaching hearts and souls and minds through this artistry? So it really helped me free myself in every way.”
In their emotional acceptance speech, Ghee also paid tribute to their mother. “My mother raised me to understand that my gifts that God gave me were not about me. To use them to be effective in the world, to help somebody else’s journey,” they shared.
“So thank you for teaching me how to live, how to love, how to give. For every trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming human who ever was told you couldn’t be, you couldn’t be seen, this is for you.”
Banner image via Instagram @thetonyawards.