The news that the next installment in the Star Trek franchise will reveal Lt. Hikaru Sulu to be a gay man, complete with a husband and a daughter, makes him arguably the highest-profile gay character to break through the final frontier of the summer blockbuster.
Visiting Australia to publicize Star Trek Beyond, which will open in the United States July 21, John Cho, who plays Sulu in the movies, told News Corp Australia’s James Wigney that writer Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin decided to give Sulu an explicitly gay identity as a tribute to George Takei, who played the character in the original TV series. As Vulture noted, Takei came out publicly in 2005 “after then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in California.” Takei has since emerged as one of America’s most effective mainstream advocates for LGBTQ rights.
The Star Trek universe has a well-deserved reputation for blasting through silly social boundaries. In “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which first aired in November 1968, a kiss between William Shatner’s Capt. James Kirk and Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Nyota Uhura was one of the first interracial kisses on American television. Twenty-seven years later, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 featured the Star Trek universe’s first same-sex kiss when Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) smooched Lenara Kahn (Susanna Thompson) in “Rejoined.”
Ronald D. Moore, now famous as the man who rebooted Battlestar Galactica and brought Outlander to television, co-wrote “Rejoined.” He has consistently included same-sex relationships in his work ever since. In January, when I asked Moore about the audience’s outraged response to the Dax–Kahl kiss, he could only wonder at the way the world, and the television business, has changed. “It’s amazing. I work in such a different landscape than when I started,” he said. With Star Trek Beyond'’s embrace of Sulu’s sexuality, we have yet more evidence of that happy development.