Fans Petition 'Star Wars' For LGBTQ Character Inspired By Orlando Victim

Two weeks ago, a man walked into the Pulse gay club in Orlando and began firing his gun. By the time his spree was over, 49 people had been killed and another 53 injured, making it the deadliest hate crime ever committed against LGBTQ people in the U.S. as well as the deadliest mass shooting overall in our history. Survivors, their loved ones, and their communities are still reeling from the loss. But one man is hoping to honor the victims in an unusual and moving way.

IGN editor Joshua Yehl is asking Disney and Lucasfilm to memorialize the victims by introducing the first-ever LGBTQ Star Wars character, to be inspired by his best friend Drew Leinonen — a massive Star Wars fan and one of those killed in the attack. 

The Petition

Yehl is circulating a petition to get an LGBTQ character inspired by Leinonen into an upcoming film. You can read his full letter over at that site, but we've excerpted a bit of it below. You can also spread the word by using #PutDrewInStarWars on social media.

On June 12, 2016, the world lost one of its most passionate Star Wars fans. On that day, 49 voices cried out and were silenced by hate. One of them was my best friend, Christopher Andrew "Drew" Leinonen. He and I bonded over many things, but nothing brought us together like Star Wars. To be honest, we were actually pretty unbearable to be around when we got to talking about that galaxy far, far away.

I'm writing this letter to request that Drew's passing be honored by using him as inspiration for the first-ever LGBT Star Wars character to appear in a movie. How this is done — using his likeness, running his name through one of those Star Wars Name Generators, etc. — is totally up to you. You are all masters of your craft, so I know that whatever you come up with will be marvelous. This character will not only honor Drew but all of the other victims at Pulse in Orlando, including his boyfriend Juan Ramon Guerrero, and every LGBT person to ever lose their life to hate.

Star Wars has never had a gay character appear on screen before, but as The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams recently said on the topic, "The fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn't be a homosexual character in that world."

I can't put it any better than that. Now is the time to act. Trust your feelings.

Gay Characters in Star Wars

A Lack of LGBTQ Characters in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As we reported last month, a GLAAD study found that Disney had exactly zero LGBTQ characters in its eleven major releases of 2015. The organization suggested the studio's Star Wars franchise would be a good place to add some LGBTQ representation, especially since it's been moving toward greater diversity since The Force Awakens. And many of those involved with the films seem game. J.J. Abrams has said gay characters will appear in future films, for instance, and actors like John Boyega and Oscar Isaac have embraced the suggestion that their characters Finn and Poe might be in love.

If Lucasfilm agrees to Yehl's petition, it'd be an incredibly sweet gesture on their part, not to mention one guaranteed to earn them tons of positive press. (There will be a few stray haters, because there always are, but Disney seems adept at taking those in stride). It'd show that Lucasfilm has been sincere about their promises to include LGBTQ characters in the Star Wars movies. The galaxy far, far away is a vast and varied place — that's what we love about it. Surely it's not impossible to include an LGBTQ character or two among the literally hundreds of named people, creatures, and aliens who populate this universe. Heck, there are even canon LGBTQ characters in the books already if the Lucasfilm movie folks aren't sure where to start.

Han and Leia

How Disney Can Bring an LGBTQ Character Into the Galaxy

I've seen some Star Wars fans complain that a gay character would feel "shoehorned in," but I don't see why that'd necessarily be the case. Straight relationships are featured all the time in films like these — even The Force Awakens had Han and Leia referencing their past relationship. And it's simply assumed that characters are cisgender without them having to stand around and discuss it at length. There's no reason Star Wars couldn't just cast a trans actor, or have a hero lock lips with a same-sex love interest before a big battle.

It may seem like a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but a confirmed LGBTQ character would be a huge step forward for representation. We rarely ever see LGBTQ characters in mainstream movies, even as our multiplexes fill up with ever-more-outlandish beings like aliens, ghosts, talking trees, and big friendly giants. And when we do, they're often treated gingerly — see last weekend's Independence Day: Resurgence, featuring a gay relationship so subtle that some of the people I've talked to didn't even realize it was a gay relationship. (In contrast, all the heterosexual relationships in that film were crystal-clear, in that the characters would openly kiss, embrace, and discuss their romantic woes.)


Fear Is the Path to the Dark Side

There are plenty of bigots who are proud to proclaim their hatred as loudly as possible. The very worst of them might fire guns at the targets of their vitriol — the Orlando shooter's father, for example, has said his son may have been motivated by disgust after seeing two men kiss. And while I'm sure the vast, vast majority of Hollywood do not share these prejudiced opinions or cruel impulses, when mainstream movies hide away or outright ignore LGBTQ people, they implicitly reinforce the bigots' hateful message that being LGBTQ is somehow strange or shameful or scary.

And Star Wars knows as well as anyone that fear is the path to the dark side. To quote Yoda, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." The first step to banishing fear is often to shine a light on what seems so terrifying, and see maybe that it's not so scary after all. It's not that adding single LGBTQ character to Star Wars will magically fix everything. But maybe it'll make someone feel less alone in this world. Maybe it'll make someone rethink some of the prejudices they hold, or just serve as a gentle reminder that there's nothing wrong with being LGBTQ.

What happened in Orlando is horrible, and no one can make it un-happen. But Disney has a chance to chip away, in some small way, at the kind of bigotry and hatred that inspired the shooter. We'd love to see them take it.