Star Trek’s Sulu will be gay in new movie Star Trek Beyond: Why it matters

Star Trek Beyond, the new Star Trek movie, will have a major character who is gay: Lt. Hikaru Sulu, played by actor John Cho.

Yeah, it’s a big deal.

I’ve been a trekkie my entire life, and out of the closet about 25 years, and Star Trek fans have long been asking for a gay lead character. Why? Because Star Trek is a vision into our better future — a future without hunger or war, where the citizens of Earth are united under one president, and 150 planets are united in one federation. (Yes, there is the occasional war with those outside the federation, but it’s always provoked by the other guys.)

The thing is, if Star Trek is supposed to epitomize the utopian future, why are there no gay or trans people? Well, now there are. Please sign our open letter thanking the creators of Star Trek Beyond, and congratulating the original Mr. Sulu, George Takei, on this wonderful news.

Star Trek's Lt. Sulu.

Star Trek's Lt. Sulu, actor George Takei, is himself openly-gay.

You have to remember that Star Trek began its voyage in 1966 as a cutting edge civil rights statement. Included among the bridge crew was a black woman, Lt. Nyota Uhura, played by actress Nichelle Nichols. Not only was it a big deal having an African-American woman as one of the lead characters on a TV show in the 1960s, but this character's role put her on equal footing with the otherwise white and Asian bridge crew. Star Trek even included a mixed-race kiss in the show! Again, it was a big deal at the time. (Even though the kiss was coerced by alien mind control.)

Just how big a deal to civil rights in America was Nichols' role? Ask Martin Luther King. Nichols gave an interview to NPR a while back in which she explained her decision to leave the show after the first season. When Martin Luther King found out about it, he had a few words with Nichols:

Ms. NICHOLS: I went in to tell Gene Roddenberry that I was leaving after the first season, and he was very upset about it. And he said, take the weekend and think about what I am trying to achieve here in this show. You’re an integral part and very important to it. And so I said, yes, I would. And that – on Saturday night, I went to an NAACP fundraiser, I believe it was, in Beverly Hills. And one of the promoters came over to me and said, Ms. Nichols, there’s someone who would like to meet you. He says he is your greatest fan.

Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura kiss on Star Trek.

Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura kiss on Star Trek.

And I’m thinking a Trekker, you know. And I turn, and before I could get up, I looked across the way and there was the face of Dr. Martin Luther King smiling at me and walking toward me. And he started laughing. By the time he reached me, he said, yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan. I am that Trekkie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NICHOLS: And I was speechless. He complimented me on the manner in which I’d created the character. I thanked him, and I think I said something like, Dr. King, I wish I could be out there marching with you. He said, no, no, no. No, you don’t understand. We don’t need you on the – to march. You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for. So, I said to him, thank you so much. And I’m going to miss my co-stars.

And his face got very, very serious. And he said, what are you talking about? And I said, well, I told Gene just yesterday that I’m going to leave the show after the first year because I’ve been offered – and he stopped me and said: You cannot do that. And I was stunned. He said, don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen. He says, do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch. I was speechless.

Our own Becca adds a bit more to the story:

A side detail about Nichelle Nichols' encounter with Dr. King was that one of the reasons he was so adamant she stay on the show was because Uhura was one of the very first black characters on TV who wasn't a domestic or servant of white people, but an actual bridge officer, and presumably in line of command should the captain and others be disabled. That meant something.

Actor John Chu playing Star Trek's Lt. Sulu.

Actor John Chu playing Star Trek's Lt. Sulu.

And it's no different for gay and trans people. The reason we're so insistent about people coming out, declaring their sexual orientation or gender identity publicly, and about making sure we're represented on TV and in the movies, is because every time we are seen publicly we become that much more free. Perhaps you're a young gay or trans person who knows they're gay or trans, isn't open about it, hasn't told their family or friends, and knows no one like themselves. Sometimes the gay or trans character on TV is all they've got to relate to, to show them that they're not alone, to show them that they really are "normal." To show them that there's life outside the closet, and thus, life is worth living.

And these depictions also help people who aren't gay or trans. Familiarity breeds ennui, and that's a good thing. The more people see gay or trans characters on TV shows and in the movies, the more it becomes normal, expected, and eventually boring. The day "gay" and "trans" goes from shocking to "whatever" is the day we truly win.

This is why LGBT people are so insistent about Star Trek representing the true diversity of the universe.

And finally, what a wonderful tribute to the original Mr. Sulu, George Takei. The openly-gay actor has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT, and all human rights. I suspect no one is more pleased that Mr. Sulu finally gets his toaster. (h/t Joe My God)

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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40 Responses to “Star Trek’s Sulu will be gay in new movie Star Trek Beyond: Why it matters”

  1. msdangermousse says:

    Full version is on YouTube HD.

  2. msdangermousse says:

    I wish that movie were available on Netflix or Amazon Prime. It would be very appropriate for this election season. ;-)

  3. Mike Adams says:

    Perfect! That’d make a great Trump campaign warning poster.

  4. msdangermousse says:

    I keep thinking about Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove riding the bomb like it was a bronc in a rodeo ;-)

  5. Mike Adams says:

    I can’t remember being this terrified by one of the prospective US Presidential candidates during my entire lifetime of 59 years. On the other hand we somehow managed to survive George W. Bush by the grace of God which helps control the overwhelming terror cause by the mere thought of a possible Trump presidency.

  6. msdangermousse says:

    It is very frightening. To think that he would promote nuclear proliferation is beyond responsible and would break treaties. It would be like the inmates running the asylum.

  7. Mike Adams says:

    I remember them well and being taught to “duck and cover” under our desks at school during those drills. With Donald Trump running for US President it makes me recall those days all the more if you get my drift.

  8. Pauline Power says:

    <<o. ✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:::::::!bq890p:….,

  9. msdangermousse says:

    There’s a lot of things that I could say that about for the youngsters. They have no idea what we went through. For one thing they have no idea what the Cold War was about. Duck and cover when we weren’t in our pre-teens. I don’t know about you but I remember when I was in elementary school in the basement there were barrels and barrels of biscuits or crackers and it was a designated bomb shelter in case of a nuclear attack but no one would have ever lived long enough to even get to that bomb shelter. Don’t eat the snow because it was full of nuclear fallout from above ground testing in Nevada ‘ s deserts . Sometimes, Mom made us play in the basement instead of outside on those days. Those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end …

  10. msdangermousse says:

    My first husband’s brother is gay but he came out while he was still at the University of Minnesota and it was right around the time that Jack Baker and his partner tried to get a marriage license and people started coming out as did my brother-in-law. Jack Baker opened a lot of doors for gays and lesbians.

  11. Mike Adams says:

    Excellent points MsD! Millennials in particular have zero clue just how obliquely and profoundly different things were back then as compared to today relative to being gay and open about it. They have no idea nor appreciation for how much blood, sweat, tears and outright lives sacrificed it took to get to where we are today. The only thing they do get are the complete benefits of that advancement without having paid any of the dues nor sacrifices it took to get from point A to B.

  12. msdangermousse says:

    Back in the 1960’s, it was very dangerous to come out. Keep in mind, that was during the Cold War and being gay would keep you from making a living not to mention being murdered.

  13. Mike Adams says:

    He doesn’t seem to be taking it that way or agreeing. Sulu was never a gay character in it’s day. Had that been Gene Roddenbury’s intent he surely would’ve taken advantage of George Takei’s orientation. Everyone knew he was gay even back then but it was kept respectfully low-key out of respect to him.

  14. Mike Adams says:

    Although a bit too politically correct for my personal taste. I enjoy watching movies as an intentional escape from all that everyday stuff.

  15. Mike Adams says:

    Particularly enjoyed hearing the part about your sneaking down the stairway a bit peaking over your Dad’s shoulder to watch television. Brings back fond memories of having done the exact same thing at age 6. Mom wouldn’t have liked it one bit particularly considering those episodes were scary as all hell. But it’s nearly a certainty Dad knew I was there and permitted that leeway knowing I enjoyed a great SciFi story (the Outer Limits (1963) as much as him. Guess where that came from? :o)

  16. Mike Adams says:

    Wonderful this movie brings back memories of your father. Yes, there’s more dialog far beyond what’s in the subtitles. It’s just like most any other contemporary movie in that regard. How and where they came up with the full dialog I’m not sure. I’d expect it came from the original movie script. Yes, I’ve watched Fritz Lang’s “M” also.

    I’m not really a silent film buff but do have quite a large collection of “talkies” from circa 1929 when sound technology first started hitting the movie theaters. One of my favorites from that period is “the Great Gabbo (1929)” particularly because of the stage scenes and music which are totally phenomenal.

    “I’m in love with you” stage sequence with Betty Compson, Donald Douglas (spectacular), “That new step,” and “Web of Love”

    “Every now and then” stage sequence

    The Great Gabbo (1929) full movie, digitally restored

  17. Nobody's Miracle (MagnaDave) says:

    Thanks, Mike. I will check those out.

  18. Mike Adams says:

    Wonderful this movie brings back memories of your father. Yes, there’s more dialog far beyond what’s in the subtitles. It’s just like most another contemporary movie in that regard. How and where they came up with the full dialog I haven’t any idea. I’d expect it came from the original movie script. Yes, I’ve watched Fritz Lang’s “M” also.

    I’m not really a silent film buff but do have quite a large collection of “talkies” from circa 1929 when sound technology first started hitting the movie theaters. One of my favorites from that period is “the Great Gabbo” particularly because of the stage scenes and music which are totally phenomenal.

    “Web of Love” stage sequence with Betty Compson, Donald Douglas (spectacular)

    “Every now and then” stage sequence

    The Great Gabbo (1929) full movie, digitally restored

  19. Nobody's Miracle (MagnaDave) says:

    I’ve seen the version with the lost footage restored. That’s kind of melancholy for me because my dad loved that movie and he would have been thrilled to see it. So, I always think of him when I watch it.

    I haven’t seen a version with voice dialogue, though. Is there dialogue beyond what was presented on the subtitles in the original? That would be interesting. I often wonder if the people who made silent movies assumed we were lip readers because there’s often far more dialogue than what the subtitles indicate, lol.

    It must be something to see in color because it was spectacular in black and white. Imo, it took science fiction producers decades to match the quality of the special effects in Metropolis.

    Have you seen M, also directed by Fritz Lang? An entirely different type of movie but arguably every bit as good.

  20. Mike Adams says:

    You should see the latest version of Metropolis Dave. They’ve added full voice dialog and music, even color. It’s totally amazing and sensational.

  21. I don’t think I have seen that one. I will have to put it on the list of must see movies. I have a vague recollection of hearing about it, but I think the snatches of memory I have associated with that name, are from Flash Gordon shorts.

  22. Nobody's Miracle (MagnaDave) says:

    I think it’s a masterpiece (a word that I don’t use lightly). For him to hit a home run his first time at bat, and continue to do so to this day, is very impressive.

    Have you seen Metropolis? I think you would enjoy that. It was decades ahead of its time especially considering that it’s a silent movie. It set the stage and the standard for the science fiction movies that followed.

  23. I love that movie! It is definitely one of the greats as far as suspense goes. It is a staple here at the Romney household. I think we may even have it on DVD now.

  24. Nobody's Miracle (MagnaDave) says:

    When I was a wee lad, I watched the movie “Duel” over my dad’s shoulder while hiding on the staircase. I was scared that he would catch me being up past my bedtime. Then, of course, the movie scared me even more.The combination was awesomely terrifying.

    Then, some time later, my uncle came to visit driving the same make and model car as Dennis Weaver did in the movie. Unfortunately, I saw the movie in black and white so I couldn’t tell that my uncle’s car was a different color which would have allowed me to view the car with less suspicion.

    Of course, my entire reply is based upon the hope that you have seen that movie. If not, you should watch it. It was Steven Spielberg’s first movie, made for TV, and, despite his very young age, it was brilliant.

  25. crazymonkeylady says:

    Been a Trekkie (Yes, I’m that old, kids) since I saw the show my Dad watched. I remember once I had misbehaved and he would not let me watch with him. I sneaked in behind him and he never caught me… Later I started my High School Star Trek/ Science Fiction Club. The rest is history. Thanks for your enthusiasm about this. I deeply respect George Takei for being a strong Gay man, just like you. Thank you.

  26. Jimmy says:

    Oh, my! Long overdue and great homage to George Takei.

  27. AdmNaismith says:

    Shouldn’t Simon Pegg or JJ Abrams get the toster?

  28. Opinionated Cat Lover says:

    Trek not about sex?

    The female uniform. You get flash of division-colored short-shorts every time a female crewmember moves around, her skirt is so short.

    Spock and the Romulan (female) Commander (the Enterprise Incident)

    Countless Kirk episodes — He gets into the (short 60s style) skirts of countless women. It’s so common, it’s a freaking Trek Trope.

    Elan of Troyus — Kirk’s the pursued one this time around, and he has to resist the whiles of a beautiful and demanding woman. A specific instance of this is the first interracial kiss on American TV (but far from the first in the setting) between Kirk and Uhura.

    Even poor Mirror Sulu got some hetero action here, when Mirror Uhura gave him the what-for in a really body-highlighting halter-top and microskirt number that passed for uniforms in Goatee Spock’s universe. (Nichols really did a good job staying in shape for that episode. She rocked the abs in that outfit…)


    Decker and Illea, ST1

    Spock and Saavik, ST3.

    Kirk and Gillian, ST4.

    Uhura and the Nimbus Pirates AND the triple-breasted catgirl, ST5.

    Bonus points: hot sexy Romulan with ear-coverings, also ST5.


    Riker and Troi.
    Troi’s costumes in general.
    Troi and Crusher in aerobics wear that look like it came from the 80s (because it did).
    Data and Yar.


    Worf and Dax.
    Intendent Kira Neris. (Pleather catsuit, yum!)


    7 of 9

    ST: ENT
    T’Pol and Tucker.
    (the decontamination scene was particularly steamy)

    All of them:

    Orion Women.

    This is all just off the top of my head. The Enterprise Scene where the three Orion women are seducing all the men on NX-01 and driving the women to distraction comes to mind. That poor Romulan woman who ended up being jilted by Spock AND being responsible for having a cloaking device stolen from her ship, AND losing the Enterprise after managing to capture it. 60’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s touches on sexuality, from the skirt that only kept its wearer decent if she stood straight up, to the point that the woman’s duty uniform included underwear of her division color, because we knew we were getting a glimpse of those, through the plunging necklines and rising hemlines of Troi’s ‘duty uniform’ until she started wearing the standard Sciences uniform in later TNG episodes and movies, through 7’s skin-tight, body-con bodysuits that made it quite clear that the Borg sometimes do value form over function, all the way to T’Pol’s own skin-tight outfit, Trek has been about sex-appeal, both in universe and for the audience. And once again, green skinned “animal women”, which literally show up from the first episode of ST:TOS, all the way to the trio that put the moves on Archer, and the one that was too steamy for Uhura (it’s said that both Uhura-Prime and Uhura-JJTrek had Cadet Gaila as a roommate at the academy….Gaila was a red-haired Orion woman). Oh, and we sure can’t forget the Kirk/Caitan-1/Caitan-2 pairing in ST: Beyond Darkness either.

    Dude. Seriously. Star Trek has had sex appeal literally from the first episode. Without sex appeal, we don’t get 7 of 9, and probably don’t get T’Pol in her current form. We sure don’t get Gaila and the Catgirl Twins.

    So, when was Star Trek about sex? Since day f*cking 1, dude. Since day f*cking 1.

  29. Badgerite says:

    I can’t think of a more deserving person to be honored this way than George Takei.

  30. Opinionated Cat Lover says:

    Actually, in some of the novels, they had her go much further than that. How about Chief of Starfleet Intelligence, with a rank of Admiral. I definitely appreciate what Star Trek has done for minorities of all stripes, and am glad that we’re going to have JJTrek Sulu being gay (it’s a good bet that the Prime Timeline Sulu was gay as well…not known for his romances).

  31. Tulle Christensen says:

    You must be thinking about Storm Track, it had no sex, Star Trek was wall to wall Kirk on girl of the week

  32. heimaey says:

    Then you weren’t watching because there have been many straight romances throughout the series.

  33. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Which is why so many bigots prefer to say homosexual instead of gay. The term homosexual only zeros in on the sex.

  34. Naja pallida says:

    How is it that, in some people’s minds, gay relationships get boiled down to nothing more than sex? It’s the typical bigot response to having to deal with gay issues: Ewww, gay sex! Guess what, gay people have the whole range of interpersonal interaction and emotion that everyone else has, to the exact same kind of degrees.

    But imagine, if you will, turning on the TV, to a show that deliberately depicts a utopian vision of the future. On Earth, things like poverty and bigotry are a just a short chapter in a history text. People of all races, ages, social statures, genders, are treated as equals. But then you realize, there’s nobody on that show that reflects you. Your values, your relationships, how you live your life is not portrayed as being among those equals. Now you could just dismiss it as fiction, and assume it was an accidental omission, or, you could want it to be a more accurate reflection of how utopia would look for you.

  35. Since when is being gay about sex? This isn’t about “sex” any more than showing heterosexual couples on Star Trek for decades has been about “sex.” But putting that aside for a moment, if you have to ask “since when is Star Trek about sex,” then you haven’t been watching Star Trek since 1966 :) Capt. Kirk is the biggest slut in the federation. How many women did he have on the show? Lots of heterosexual kissing in that original series. And as for the new movie, same thing goes — lots of sex. See below.

  36. BeccaM says:

    A side detail about Nichelle Nichols’ encounter with Dr. King was that one of the reasons he was so adamant she stay on the show was because Uhura was one of the very first black characters on TV who wasn’t a domestic or servant of white people, but an actual bridge officer, and presumably in line of command should the captain and others be disabled. That meant something.

    Many don’t remember the follow-on animated series in the 1970s, and yes, it was kind of silly. But there was one episode where this happened. All of the male crew members were incapacitated, and so the women had to take charge — led by Lt. Uhura who was the remaining senior officer.

  37. BeccaM says:

    Ah, hello? Practically every frickin’ episode had Kirk bangin’ some alien chick. Or human. Or a female android.

    It’s not just sex we’re talking about here. It’s WHO these people are openly courting. Did you ever doubt the presumed heterosexuality of every single character on the show? In fact, I can name episodes in which each main character — excepting only Sulu — had a romantic interlude of some sort. All of them hetero.

    Sexual orientation isn’t just about the sex. It’s also a social thing.

  38. littlesuzi says:

    Since when was Star Trek about sex? This would only come up if some alien used some evil spell on one of the crew. I have been watching it since 1966 and sex was not part of the drama.

  39. Hue-Man says:

    You should explain this to the gay men who rip apart every TV series that has gay representation whether it’s The Real O’Neal’s, Partners, Looking, The New Normal, or all the way back to Will & Grace. I wonder whether this predictable high-visibility criticism is a signal to Hollywood to minimize LGBT representation in film and TV.

  40. walterhpdx says:

    This is *amazing* news! And about damned time.

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