By Alexander Kalcala, Yahoo Music | Alex Newell has been breaking down barriers and blazing a path for LGBTQ entertainers since his television debut nearly a decade ago.
The gender-nonconforming actor made history in 2012 for his role on ‘Glee” as Unique Adams, one of the first teenage transgender characters on television. After “Glee” ended in 2015, Newell made his Broadway debut in the 2017 revival of “Once on This Island,” which earned him a Grammy nomination. The 28-year-old has released numerous dance-pop singles that have garnered millions of streams and U.S. and U.K dance chart success. At this year’s Critics Choice Awards, he scored a best supporting actor in a comedy series nomination for his groundbreaking, genderfluid character on NBC’s popular dramedy “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.”
Though he makes being out and unafraid to be his authentic self look easy, Newell says growing up in a faith-based community made it difficult to accept himself at first.
“Religion and the church were a big part of my childhood,” he told TODAY. Newell’s father served as a deacon before he lost his battle with cancer when the actor was six years old.
“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.”
Though he doesn’t go to church as often today, Newell says he stills draws on his faith particularly in hard times.
“I always say your relationship with God is personal and you don’t always have to be in a building to build it,” Newell told TODAY via email. “(Religion) keeps me grounded and is a vessel to put my own pain and anguish in so I’m not harboring it and carrying that around. I don’t go to church as often as I used to, but that never stops me from listing to Dottie People, Karen Clark Sheard and Shirley Caesar first thing Sunday morning!”
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