Alex Newell Of ‘Shucked’ And J. Harrison Ghee Of ‘Some Like It Hot’ Become First Openly Nonbinary Tony Winners

Alex Newell of Shucked and J. Harrison Ghee of Some Like It Hot broke ground Sunday night as the first openly nonbinary Tony Award winners.

Newell won for Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical and Ghee for Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical.

Both drew huge ovations with acceptance speeches that struck both stirringly emotional and disarmingly funny chords.

“Thank you for seeing me, Broadway!” Newell said. “I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat black lil’ baby from Massachusetts.” She added, “To anyone that thinks they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face [and say] that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Newell added thanks to their mother for “loving me unconditionally” and “teaching me what strength is.”

Ghee, who prefers the pronouns “they/them,” hit on a similar theme onstage. “For every trans, nonbinary, gender nonconforming human who ever was told you couldn’t be, you couldn’t be seen, this is for you,” Ghee said.

In the press room, they expanded on the milestone, saying the key has been refusing to “use someone else’s label on you” and “find the freedom and lean into it.” That attitude is “how I live my life,” Ghee said, “with intention and with love.” They said they are seeking to “be that inspiration. …It’s wonderful to walk every day and give myself the grace to grow.”

The Tony Award, which came after Ghee’s first nomination, capped a period the blue leather gown-wearing winner described as a turning point, when he came out as nonbinary and felt a new sense of liberty. “I go to my closet every day and I say, ‘What’s the vibe? How do I feel?’” Ghee said.

“People see me and say, ‘I can never wear that!’” but their response is “you haven’t given yourself the space to do that.” Ghee said the key has been taking on the mantra, “You have to free yourself to see yourself.”

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