Non-binary Broadway star abstains from gendered Tony awards & calls for change

Non-binary Broadway star abstains from gendered Tony awards & calls for change
Justin David Sullivan in & Juliet Photo: Screenshot

On Wednesday, the Tony Awards Administration Committee announced the first round of 2022–2023 Broadway productions that will be eligible for this year’s Tony nominations.

Among the initial roster of performers that the committee deemed eligible for 2023 nominations are three from the current Broadway production of & Juliet. But another principal performer in the jukebox musical has taken themself out of the running.

Justin David Sullivan, who identifies as non-binary, announced Wednesday that they have withdrawn from consideration for the 2023 Tonys due to the awards’ gendered performance categories, The New York Times reports.

“I felt I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season,” Sullivan said in a statement. “I hope that award shows across the industry will expand their reach to be able to honor and award people of all gender identities.”

“Per Justin David Sullivan’s request to the Tony Administration Committee, they opted to withdraw themselves from eligibility,” Tony Award Productions said in a statement.

“We recognize that the current acting categories are not fully inclusive, and we are currently in discussion about how to best adjust them to address this,” the statement continued. “Unfortunately, we are still in process on this and our rules do not allow us to make changes once a season has begun. We are working thoughtfully to ensure that no member of our community feels excluded on the basis of gender identity in future seasons.”

According to the Times, a spokesperson for the Tony Awards confirmed that another non-binary performer, Asia Kate Dillon, had previously asked not to be considered in the gendered performance categories for their role in the 2022 Broadway production of Macbeth.

However, J. Harrison Ghee, who identifies as non-binary and uses both he/him and they/them pronouns, will be considered for a 2023 Tony for their role in Some Like It Hot, a new musical based on the 1959 film.

Like many awards shows, the Tonys divide their performance categories into gendered categories, nominating “actors” and “actresses” in both leading and featured roles in separate categories for plays and musicals for a total of eight performance categories. No other categories—best direction, etc.—are divided by gender.

In recent years, some high-profile entertainment awards shows like the Grammys, the MTV Movie Awards, and the Independent Spirit Awards, have switched to gender-neutral categories. Others, like the Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes, continue to divide performance nominations by gender, resulting in some out non-binary actors being nominated in categories that don’t reflect their identity. Most recently, non-binary House of the Dragon star Emma D’Arcy was nominated for “Best Actress in a Television Series” at the 2023 Golden Globes.

The Times notes that doing away with gendered acting categories raises concerns that actors would be competing for awards in fewer categories. But there’s nothing stopping the Tonys, which already divides its performance categories between plays and musicals, from dividing those awards further between dramas and comedies, allowing performers to compete in more, non-gendered categories.  

This year’s Tony nominations will be announced May 2. The show will air on CBS and stream live on Paramount+ June 11.

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