Star Trek Beyond has premiered in Australia and as we are all trying to avoid reading any spoilers, one little tidbit of information has leaked all over the internet. According to Melbourne Herald Sun Lt. Hikaru Sulu is the first main character in Star Trek history to be gay. The creative team of Simon Pegg and Justin Lin decided to develop Sulu’s character in this way as a nod to George Takei, the original Sulu, who came out in 2005. Since he came how, Mr. Takei has been a champion for gay rights & marriage equality. Personally, he is one of my biggest heroes and I think this a wonderful tribute to him.
Takei has always said that he played the character of Sulu as a straight man. That being said the character’s sexual orientation was never spelled out on screen. We learned in Star Trek Generations that Sulu has a daughter named Demora Sulu but nothing about the rest of his family. Perhaps the prime universe Sulu raised Demora with a same sex partner like the Kevin timeline Sulu is!
In fact, the closest we come to learning about Sulu’s orientation is in the TAS episode “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”. The crew gains magical powers and Sulu conjures up a female companion. It’s implied that this is a sexual companion– but again not really stated out loud. Maybe he just wanted another person of Asian decent on the Enterprise!
Well now I’m dying to know more. Who is his partner? Are they married? Is he in Starfleet? Is he back home on Earth with little Demora? I guess I’ll have to wait to see the movie to learn more.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, George Takei isn’t happy about Sulu being gay.
“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.
Apparently John Cho spoke with Takei about the idea a while back. But George urged him and the new creative to write a new character instead of altering an existing one. Here is a excerpt from the Hollywood Reporter article:
Takei tried to convince him to make a new character gay instead. “I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.'” (Takei had enough negative experiences inside the Hollywood closet, he says, and strongly feels a character who came of age in the 23rd century would never find his way inside one.)
Personally, I’m just too excited about the existence of a gay character in Star Trek to really care that it’s retconning one of Gene Roddenberry’s original creations. As I said before, the writers seemed to avoid putting Sulu in any sexual situations at all. That left the door wide open for him to be gay. I don’t think Sulu was ever in the closet either, I think we just never saw it come up on screen.
It pains me to disagree with one of my heroes, but I think George should let this go. A gay Sulu is good news for Trek. Moreover, its important for the LGBT community to be represented in Star Trek– a utopian vision of our future. If things really will get better, as Gene Roddenberry predicted, I want to know that someone like me can be a part of that future!