Nonbinary performer Justin David Sullivan opts out of Tony consideration over gendered categories

We're deep in the throes of awards season, and the Tonys are warming up their vocal chords to announce who slayed the Great White Way this past year.

However, one standout performance won't be up for consideration after the performer decided to take a stand against the Tonys' gendered categories.

Justin David Sullivan — who self-identifies as a trans nonbinary singer, actor, and artist using he/she/they pronouns — plays May in the jukebox musical, & Juliet, yet another retelling of the Bard's most famous, and overdone, play, this time with catchy pop songs.

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

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 14: Justin David Sullivan poses at a media preview/photo call for the new upcoming broadway musical "& Juliet" at The iHeartRadio Theater on October 14, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 14: Justin David Sullivan poses at a media preview/photo call for the new upcoming broadway musical "& Juliet" at The iHeartRadio Theater on October 14, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)

Bruce Glikas/Getty

Sullivan did not respond immediately to EW's request for comment, but did further elaborate on their decision to Playbill.

"I was told that I had to choose [the category in which] I felt comfortable, and in that process, I struggled a lot," Sullivan said. "There's nothing more that I want to empower than nonbinary people, to show that it's possible to be nonbinary on Broadway, play a nonbinary character on Broadway and be nominated, and possibly potentially awarded. I felt like I couldn't choose. I didn't feel right being in either category because it didn't resonate with me. I decided the only thing that felt right to me would be to abstain from nomination consideration. So I will not be considered for a Tony nomination."

According to The New York Times, Sullivan is not the first nonbinary performer to withdraw their name from competition; last year, Billions star Asia Kate Dillon did the same for their role as Malcolm in Macbeth, though did so privately. Sullivan added, "I hope this is a wake-up call to not only the Tonys, but for every award show to celebrate everyone and to make sure they're being inclusive." The still-sleepy Tonys honored Sullivan's decision, acknowledging that they could be doing better.

"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," a spokesperson for the Tony Awards said in a statement to EW. "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 feel excluded, on the basis of gender identity, in future seasons."

At least one other nonbinary Broadway baby will choose to keep their name in the ring, J. Harrison Ghee, one of the stars of Some Like It Hot. Ghee steals scenes as Jerry/Daphne, a bassist who fully comes into themselves while on the run from the mob with an all-girl band. The producers checked with Ghee before submitting their performance in the Lead Actor category, one which they stand a good chance of winning.

Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot

Matthew Murphy

"I'm not going to put myself on this pedestal like, 'I need it to change today.' And not for the sake of me not needing it, or lack of understanding people coming behind me, but also knowing it is not going to change overnight," Ghee recently told The Daily Beast. "I never go into things expecting to be the person that changes everything. I'm just showing up and meeting the moment."

Calls for gender-neutral awards categories are not reserved strictly for the theater, but across all entertainment fields. Back in June, The Crown star Emma Corrin, who came out as nonbinary in July 2021 and uses they pronouns, also called for gender neutral categories, saying, "I don't think the categories are inclusive enough at the moment. It's about everyone being able to feel acknowledged and represented."

"The conversation needs to be about having more representation in the material itself, in the content that we are seeing for nonbinary people, for queer people, for trans people, because then I think that will change a lot," they added. "When those parts come up, meaning more people and more actors are playing those roles, then I think there will be more of an urgency with which these questions will be addressed."

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