The Tony Awards As Two Black Non-Binary Actors Win Major Categories

J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell became the first openly non-binary performers to win a Tony Award in the acting category, Variety reports. 

 The 76th Annual Tony Awards took place on Sunday night and featured a slate of performers. Hosted by Ariana DeBose, this year’s ceremony made history as Ghee won a lead actor award for their performance in Casey Nicholaw’s musical Some Like It Hot, where they played Jerry/Daphne. Newell, who goes by she/he/they pronouns, was awarded featured actor in a musical for their role as Lulu in Jack O’Brien’s Shucked. Both Ghee and Newell identify as non-binary, making them the first openly non-binary performers to win in major categories during the award show’s decades-long run.

“Whoever was told you couldn’t be seen. This is for you,” said Ghee as they tearfully accepted the award, according to Today. A long-overdue win for the drag star, Ghee has performed in the industry for many years. Ghee, born to a Missionary Baptist pastor and raised in North Carolina, shared with the New York Times that they were not always accepted for their identity and career. They were 21 when they came out to their parents, who were not initially receptive. Ghee’s mother was against their sexuality and career as a drag star, believing that their life was not in God’s plan. However, she later changed her tune just in time to witness Ghee star in the musical Kinky Boots as Lola.

Their father had slightly more accepting words when they came out, saying only this: “I don’t know where this came from and where I went wrong, but you’re still my son. You’re a part of me. You represent me. I love you.” These words comforted Ghee as they ventured further into their theatre career. According to Broadway World, Ghee has since starred in shows on the small screen and the stage, performing in musicals  Mrs. Doubtfire and The Color Purple and television shows High Maintenance and Raising Dion, to name a few. 

Newell has had an equally expansive career. Newell, also born into a religious household, spoke to Today about how they reconciled their faith and identity as they pursued a musical theater career.My gender identity, my sexuality, my effeminate mannerisms, and my faith conflicted with each other and who I am. So, I had to learn to love who I am and I’m grateful for my mother and the strong community of Black women who loved me for me,” the Massachusetts native shared with Today

Newell’s passion for performing eventually led them to the small screen. Newell successfully landed a role in the 2009 musical-comedy-drama show Glee as the show’s first openly transgender teenage character in 2012. From there, their career flourished. According to Today, Newell has since featured and starred on shows Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and a Broadway revival of Once on This Island. They have also released numerous dance-pop singles, garnering millions of streams in the U.S. and the U.K.

The 2023 Tony Awards was not just a night of celebration for the two gender non-conforming performers but also for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, which they addressed within their speeches. Watch Ghee’s and Newell’s acceptance speeches below:



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