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'Star Trek Beyond' pays homage to Takei with first openly gay character

The Star Trek franchise is known for bringing the first interracial kiss to U.S. television, and now it has taken another progressive step by adding its first openly gay character. In Star Trek Beyond, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise, Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho), will be out and raising a daughter with his partner, according to Australia’s Herald Sun.

“I liked the approach, which was not to make a big thing out it, which is where I hope we are going as a species, to not politicize one’s personal orientations,” Cho told the Herald Sun.

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Cho also revealed that writer Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty in the current series of films) and director Justin Lin decided to make Sulu gay in honor of George Takei, the actor who played the lieutenant in the original TV series and films. With Star Trek airing in the 1960s, a time that wasn’t exactly LGBT-friendly, Takei didn’t publicly come out until decades later. He did, however, work with LGBT organizations even before revealing his sexuality, and he has continued his activism in the years since.

A gay Star Trek character may be new to the films and TV series, but it is not new ground for all Trekkies. Some of the tie-in novels have included LGBT characters, as the Verge points out, including 1998’s The Best and the Brightest by Susan Wright and 2001’s Section 31: Rogue by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin.

Meanwhile, Star Trek Beyond also sadly marks the final film starring Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov. The actor died in a freak accident in June, not long before the movie’s release.

“It’s devastating losing someone in your family — this feels like it should be a time for celebration, not just of the film but of him, his extraordinary talent and the beautiful man he was,” Karl Urban, who plays Dr. McCoy, told the Herald Sun.

Star Trek Beyond opens in theaters on July 22.