Guiding Light's Natalia Rivera named one of the Top Queer and Trans Women of Color Characters in TV History

Posted Thursday, December 12, 2019 6:30:31 PM
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The popular Guiding Light pairing of Natalia Rivera and Olivia Spencer made headlines in 2008 for its depiction of two women falling in love. Natalia's recent inclusion on Autostraddle's list, more than ten years later, shows the long-lasting impact of the coupling and their enduring popularity among industry professionals and fans alike.

Guiding Light generated a lot of buzz when it paired characters Natalia Rivera, played by Jessica Leccia, and Olivia Spencer, played by Crystal Chappell. Groundbreaking at the time, the coupling still receives recognition more than ten years later. One of a handful of characters that are both queer and women of color to appear in an American daytime drama, her portrayal of Natalia earned Leccia an American Latino Media Arts Award in 2008, and this year, Natalia has landed on Autostraddle's list of the Top 100 Queer and Trans Women of Color Television Characters in TV History.

The unlikely union between Natalia and Olivia, called Otalia by fans, began after Natalia's husband Gus Aitoro died in a motorcycle accident while on his way to find Olivia, triggering Natalia to blame Olivia for Gus's death. Months before he died, upon learning that Olivia needed a heart transplant, Gus made it his personal mission to find Olivia a heart. With Gus spending more time helping Olivia than Natalia liked, tensions grew between the two women. When Natalia learned that Gus's life could not be saved following his crash and that his heart was a match for Olivia, Natalia was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to donate Gus's heart to save Olivia. Ultimately, Natalia chose to sustain Olivia's life with Gus's heart, despite the contention between herself and Olivia.

When Oliva woke up from surgery and discovered that she had Gus's heart, she was overcome with grief and regret, losing the will to live. It was only when Natalia began to nurse Olivia back to health that Olivia found the motivation to go on, in part due to Natalia pleading with Olivia that she couldn't let Gus's death be in vain and that they owed it to him to keep his heart alive. As Natalia and Olivia spent more time together, their relationship slowly evolved from enemies into a close friendship, which resulted in them being roommates. This led to the two helping with one another's children, which grew into a romantic relationship by the time the show was taken off the air. The pairing proved to be popular, gaining a large fan base and recognition from both the soap press and mainstream media, including Entertainment Weekly and even the New York Times.

After Guiding Light ended, Leccia and Chappell went on to star together in multiple projects created by Chappell, including the multi-Emmy-winning web series Venice, films A Million Happy Nows and The Grove, and talk show The It Girls on a Stoop. The two can next be seen together in the second season of Beacon Hill, airing next year.

Jessica Leccia joined Guiding Light as Natalia Riveria in 2007 and stayed in the role through Guiding Light's cancellation in 2009. Leccia went on to portray Inez Salinger on One Life to Live from 2010 to 2011. Crystal Chappell first played Olivia Spencer on Guiding Light in 1999 and remained with the show until it ended in 2009. Chappell then returned to Days of our Lives as Carly Manning from 2009 to 2011, a role she originated in 1990 before vacating it in 1993. Chappell also portrayed Jane Kingsley on Santa Barbara in 1990, Maggie Carpenter on One Life to Live from 1995 to 1997, and Danielle Spencer on The Bold and the Beautiful from 2012 to 2013.

What do you think about Natalia being included in Autostraddle's list of Top Queer and Trans Women of Color Characters? Do you have a favorite Guiding Light episode featuring Natalia? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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