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Gay and Nonbinary Performers Sweep the Tony Awards

Gay and Nonbinary Performers Sweep the Tony Awards

Alex Newell, Ariana DeBose, Sean Hayes

The historic ceremony was hosted by out actress Ariana DeBose.

The Tony Awards have always felt like home for the queer community, but this year was something even more special. While many gay legends took home awards, including Sean Hayes and Joel Grey, J. Harrison Gee and Alex Newell also made history as the first nonbinary performers to win a Tony Award.

For the second year in a row, out actress Ariana DeBose hosted the show, which started out with an impressive dance number through the United Palace that brought her to the stage. Because the Writer’s Guild of America is on strike, DeBose remarked in her monologue that the show was “live and unscripted,” but that didn’t stop her from being an incredible host.

The show’s presenters also did not have scripts, giving Wilson Cruz a chance to wish viewers a “happy and joyful Pride” when he and Tatiana Maslany presented the award for Featured Actor in a Musical. He also said: “To the LGBTQ community and to the overwhelming majority of Americans who support and love us, thank you.”

Throughout the evening, many queer performers earned awards; the first was Brandon Uranowitz, who took home the award for Featured Actor in a Play for his role in Leopoldstadt, a play following several generations of a Jewish family in Vienna. During his speech, Uranowitz acknowledged his partner Zach and thanked his parents for accepting him, before telling other parents: “When your child tells you who they are, believe them.”

Out gay actor Sean Hayes won the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for his role in Goodnight, Oscar. Similar to Uranowitz, Hayes dedicated his award to his husband, remarking: “First of all, my husband, Scotty — it’s Scotty, right? I can never get it right. You are my purpose, every single day of my life.”

At this year’s Tony Awards, both lifetime achievement awards also went to gay men: Joel Grey, whose credits include Cabaret, George M!, Wicked, Anything Goes, and Chicago, and John Kander, who co-wrote the score for fifteen musicals, including Cabaret and Chicago.

In addition, out gay director Michael Arden won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Parade and was bleeped for using the f word. Upon winning the award, he exclaimed, “Growing up, I was called the f word more times than I could remember. And all I can say now is I’m a faggot with a Tony.” This led Parade star Ben Platt and his fiance, actor Noah Galvin to their feet for a standing ovation.

For the first time in Tony Awards history, two of the biggest queer wins of the night went to non-binary performers. Alex Newell won the award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for their performance in the musical Shucked.

“I have wanted this my entire life,” said Newell when they accepted the award. “I should not be up here as a queer non-binary fat little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone who thinks they can't do it—you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Non-binary actor J. Harrison Gee also won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for their role in Some Like It Hot. Upon receiving the award, the actor said: “For every trans, non-binary, gender nonconforming human whoever was told you couldn’t be, you couldn’t be seen. this is for you.”

At the end of the night, queer-inclusive musical Kimberly Akimbo took home the night’s top prize for Best Musical. Earlier in the evening, Bonnie Milligan, who is one of the show’s stars, won an award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and doubled down on the evening’s themes of acceptance.

"I want to tell everybody that doesn't look like what the world is telling you should look like. Whether you're not pretty enough, you're not fit enough, your identity is not right, who you love isn't right—that doesn't matter because guess what, it's right, and you belong.”

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Becca Damante