John Cho's recent announcement that Sulu will be gay in "Star Trek: Beyond" predictably set the Internet on fire.

Photo from "Star Trek: Beyond"/Paramount Pictures.


According to Cho, the decision was made, in part, as a tribute to George Takei, the openly gay actor and LGBT rights activist who played the character in the original series.

The actor revealed that Sulu's relationship with his partner — with whom he has a daughter — would be treated as any other relationship in the film and essentially be "no big deal."

Lots of fans were thrilled.



But the announcement about Sulu's sexual orientation had a surprise critic: Takei himself.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

"I’m delighted that there’s a gay character," Takei told The Hollywood Reporter. "Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene [Roddenberry’s] creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate."

Takei explained that he believed that while "Star Trek" is ready for a gay main cast member, the decision to depict Sulu's same-sex relationship in a prequel recasts the Enterprise helmsman as closeted in the original series.

Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay, responded in The Guardian to "respectfully disagree" with Takei.

Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images.

"Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice," Pegg said in a statement.

"Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic."

One fan who was particularly excited by the news was Dan Wohl, a California graduate student who asked for exactly this move in a 2013 essay published on The Mary Sue.

"J.J. Abrams, if you’re listening, I think you should make Sulu gay," Wohl wrote.

Giving Sulu a same-sex partner, Wohl argued — and treating their relationship as simply something that is — would not only be a moving tribute to Takei's life and work, but help begin to correct "complicated but ultimately disappointing history" of mostly ignoring LGBT themes and characters on "Star Trek."

Wohl told Upworthy that he was delighted by the news.

Photo from "Star Trek: Beyond"/Paramount Pictures.

"I think it's awesome, and I'm really glad they're doing it," he said.

While he expected that the franchise would eventually introduce LGBT characters, he explained that he didn't believe the writers of the film would actually choose a character with such a long history to be the series' first.

"It's very rare to have something that you want so much to happen in your fandom come true."

"The normalization of things is really powerful," Wohl explained, praising the creators of "Beyond" for choosing not to make a grand statement about Sulu's sexuality within the film.

Making Sulu's sexual orientation just one more facet of a character with decades of rich backstory rather than a major plot point, he said, is just as powerful as using the character to make a big, sweeping statement.

"Almost just as important is to show that the things that were fought for should be viewed as just parts of life."

While he criticized the franchise for being behind the curve on LGBT issues to date, Wohl hopes that with a new series about to launch on CBS, "Star Trek" will further affirm its inclusive values.

"What I really think 'Star Trek' could and should become a pioneer in is when it comes to trans characters," he said.

Similarly, he said, if the franchise does introduce a trans character or characters, it could break new ground by refusing to make their gender identity the focus of their arc.

"The only time that you basically see a trans character is when the story is about them being trans."

But first, the franchise is — thankfully, finally — boldly going ... where many have gone before.

Photo by James Teterenko/Wikimedia Commons.

The show "was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms," creator Roddenberry wrote in an essay on the "Star Trek" philosophy.

While creators, actors, and fans may disagree about the particulars, with "Star Trek," what else is new?

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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