Orlando's LGBTQ+ nightclub Pulse was the target of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history this month. While it's left many at a loss as to how to come to terms with such a tragedy, others have been looking toward something positive. A new petition is asking Bob Iger of Disney and Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm to honor a fan who was lost in the attack by naming Star Wars' first canon LGBT film character after him.
“We are all heartbroken by the tragic and horrific events in Orlando, and offer our thoughts, prayers and support to everyone in our community affected by this senseless act,” said Iger earlier this month. The Walt Disney Company followed up words with action by donating $1 million to the OneOrlando Fund. “We are heartbroken by this tragedy and hope our commitment will help those in the community affected by this senseless act,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
But Joshua Yehl is asking the company make another kind of statement. He'd like them to put their first gay character in a Star Wars film and name them after his friend Drew Leinonen, one of the 49 victims in Orlando. “Drew was the most passionate Star Wars fan I”d ever met, which is probably why he became my best friend. We wouldn”t shut up about it every time we were in a room together,” said Yehl. “I”ve been a mess since his passing, but on the way home from his funeral, I got this big idea that the best way to honor him in a really visible, lasting way would be to make him the inspiration for the first-ever gay Star Wars character.”
Writing at putdrewinstarwars.com Yehl writes to Kennedy, Iger, Lucasfilm, and Disney:
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.
Yes, it's hard to believe it's 2016 and a franchise which includes countless alien races hasn't had an LGBTQ+ character on film. You may recall Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams discussing the glaring omission recently. Many took his words to mean we would definitely see an LGBTQ+ character in Episode VIII but what he said was “of course” he sees it happening in the future. “To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility,” Abrams said, “So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn”t be a homosexual character in that world.”
Yehl picks up in his petition to say, “I can”t put it any better than that. Now is the time to act. Trust your feelings.”
While Star Wars is a sci-fi fantasy world with bizarre aliens and hulking monsters, it still features characters just like us. After A New Hope, steps were taken to expand and diversify the cast, giving us the smooth-talking Lando Calrissian and Rebel pilots played by people of color. The tradition of making Star Wars more inclusive continued with the casting of Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, the main protagonists of The Force Awakens. It”s my hope that Star Wars will take another step forward by introducing their first-ever LGBT character in a movie.
GLAAD has also hoped Disney would take a cue to keep expanding their fictional world to truly reflect the real one. Earlier this year they posted their annual Hollywood report:
As sci-fi projects have the special opportunity to create unique worlds whose advanced societies can serve as a commentary on our own, the most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters is in the upcoming eighth Star Wars film. 2015″s The Force Awakens has introduced a new and diverse central trio, which allows the creators opportunity to tell fresh stories as they develop their backstory. Recent official novels in the franchise featured lesbian and gay characters that could also be easily written in to the story.
I was discussing this exact issue as it pertained to Bryan Fuller's upcoming Star Trek television show for CBS All Access. Fuller seemed to indicate their casting and characters would be progressive but as with other science fiction and fantasy stories, Star Wars should absolutely be ahead of the pack when it comes to representation. Yehl puts it simply in his petition:
This is a universe with Wookies, Jawas, and Hutts, so why can”t there be a visible LGBT character on screen? This tragedy happened because of hate, but Star Wars is something that unites people, so fulfilling this request would only serve to bring more love into the world, and that's what Drew was all about. It”s vitally important that LGBT people are included in mainstream media because it will show that we don”t need to be feared or hated or hidden. We can be part of the rebellion and we can fight evil, and we can do it while being who we are with pride.
Naming a canon character in honor of a Star Wars fan is not without precedent. You may recall young Katie Johnson had a pink astromech droid named after her (R2-KT). She passed away from inoperable cancer in 2005 and the droid went on to appear in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Force Awakens.
The intent of Yehl's petition is not just to honor his friend Drew Leinonen but Leinonen's boyfriend Juan Ramon Guerrero, who was also a victim at the Pulse shooting, and all of the other LGBTQ+ people who have lost their lives to hate. “Drew was a remarkable human being, and I can”t think of a more perfect tribute to his legacy than this,” writes Yehl. “Nothing would make him happier than for all the little gay nerds out there to have their own Star Wars character to look up to.”
You can read the whole petition, sign, and watch a video of Yehl's plea here. You can also help spread the word on social media with the hashtag #PutDrewInStarWars.