Pride month is an intentional moment for me, and many others, to pause and deliberately reflect on what it means to be a part of the queer community. It can be an emotional rollercoaster of reflection.
June offers many of us opportunities to showcase queer achievements and celebrate those who are leading the initiative for social change. It’s also a month that can sometimes amplify unhelpful noise that may trigger past pain, trauma, and harm when it comes to who we are as people. All around the globe there are queer people fighting for their rights to live without criminalization of who they are, without conversion therapy haunting their communities, without violence and persecution cratering their existence. I hope, at the very least, these words provide some inspiration and encouragement in spaces that can often be toxic and heavy.
When I approached the Star Wars News Net team about the idea for this story I was met with affirmation — and I’m extremely grateful for that. Often, I don’t experience that level of positivity regarding my identity, so to have it celebrated, and welcomed, by this awesome team of other Star Wars fans was truly refreshing! I hope you join in the celebration, too.
Star Wars was, and is, a glorious escape. When I was a little tiny Tony tot, Star Wars provided a different reality than the one that many of us in the queer community faced and continue to face. It was a galaxy of opportunities and adventures, packed with characters, aliens, stories, and worlds ripe for exploration. It was a space where I could imagine anything and everything, where I wasn’t afraid of who I was or what I felt. It was safe and full of wonder. Star Wars is meant to be a fantastical, fun journey full of adventure, friendship, love, and the vanquishing of evil — and we, as queer individuals, should have a part to play in that story.
When I was 12, I sat in a blanket fort in my bedroom reading ”The Approaching Storm” (the now legends prequel novel to Attack of the Clones) while listening to music and exploring the stars of my imagination, following along with Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Barriss Offee, and Luminara Unduli on their epic quest. A few years later, my LEGO Ewoks and I battled stormtroopers in my parents’ backyard, using pieces of bark for makeshift barricades as time melted away while I escaped to Endor on a warm summer evening.
More recently, I watched the first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens and all of the excitement and emotion rushed back to the forefront. The sight of the Millennium Falcon gave me chills as it threw me back to those moments where I envisioned myself on a similar starship, launching through the stars away from a bad day full of thoughts swirling in my head regarding my identity. It has truly been a fascinating escape.
I am forever grateful to my parents for cultivating my creativity and allowing me the freedom to fully explore the Star Wars universe as I grew up, giving me the opportunity to learn about myself in the process and build my worldview that I hope is now a growing foundation for loving, appreciating, and caring for others for who they are. As a white cis gay man in a community with pockets of support, I’m fully aware I have a massive amount of social privilege compared to many other marginalized communities. I haven’t faced the kind of underrepresentation and volatile societal, and physical, persecution that many other individuals in the queer community, or those within the BIPOC community, consistently face.
I want to make it clear I do not speak for everyone, and my voice is just one. And I hope that, as we move forward, Star Wars and other leading fantasy and sci-fi mythos, will help be a catalyst for more moments, characters, situations, and stories that are representative of many more people with many other voices. This is also not a superficially sugar-sweet perspective that overlooks current problematic issues with Star Wars and queer acceptance. There is a lot of work to do.
There is controversy around Lucasfilm and the partnership with Quantic Dream on the new Star Wars Eclipse video game, which is now reported to be on a delay, due to derogatory and offensive comments made by founder David Cage about LGBTQIA+, women, and other marginalized communities. There is still superficial tokenism within the created stories — the kiss shared by two women at the end of The Rise of Skywalker was a safe, pandering inclusion that was queerbaiting and insincere.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek fumbled support for the LGBTQIA+ community with Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill earlier this year, further increasing pressure on hypocrisy at the company. You can’t support rhetoric against our community and then use us as your animators, actors, artists, entertainers, and employees. Our existence is not a resource to be manipulated for gain then unsupported when it matters most. Chapek has since publicly condemned the bill after staying silent, apologized to employees, and rolled out LGBTQIA+ messaging across a variety of channels. The political discourse rages, with many labeling Disney as morally corrupt by taking a stance on LGBTQIA+ legislation, with Governor DeSantis attempting to strip Disney of self-government status over the situation, while others think the company isn’t doing enough for the social justice movement.
I’ll continue to evaluate, criticize, and explore what’s happening because it’s our reality and worthy of critical evaluation. I’m extremely grateful for the LGBTQIA+ community who work for Disney and are involved with Disney leading the charge for change from within. I am also thankful for a lot of progress, albeit slow. Because it’s that — it’s progress. Although corporations too often capitalize on pride to make money (in an economical structure where exploitation serves the bottom line, that unfortunately happens more often than not) I am thankful for what merchandise, toys, and representation means to kids now.
I need to remind myself of the positive impact a Funko Pop! stormtrooper in rainbow colors can make on kids who are questioning, or what it’s like for teenagers to have the opportunity to wear a pride BB8 shirt. I think about what it means for them to read a comic book about Doctor Aphra and the romance she has with other women, or the positive discussions that happen after reading the High Republic story about Terec and Ceret, the first trans non-binary Jedi who go by they/them pronouns. I envision what it’s like for kids to see advertisements with queer couples in Batuu, smiling and enjoying an amusement park where they can be themselves along with all the other guests.
I think back to little Tony and what it would have meant to experience all of the above. I would have seen I was worthy of celebration, of inclusion. I wasn’t an “other” — I was important, just like everyone else. Imagine being able to attend Star Wars Celebration and cosplay as a character that looks like you, feels like you, represents you?
Although the lens I’m looking through is queer, it goes well beyond my community and truly includes anyone who seeks solace, adventure, and belonging in this fantastical space. You don’t have to be part of any certain community to relate to the feeling you get when you escape into the world of Star Wars. It’s a magnificent joyride of spaceships and lasers, monsters and moons. It’s a welcoming, immersive adventure beckoning us to engage with myth and lore. It’s a giant sandbox where we can go on adventures, make connections, celebrate heroes, and defeat villains. This sandbox is big enough for all of us.
Let’s push to see more representation in the galaxy we love. With so many projects coming up, I’m hopeful to see more diverse representation than ever in the characters and stories that will be told across a variety of TV series, films, books, video games, and comics. How can we collectively fix the lack of queer characters, characters of color, women, and protagonists with diverse backgrounds (I love what Moses Ingram, who plays Reva in Obi-Wan Kenobi, says in this Entertainment Weekly interview about the importance of her hair being a representative moment for kids). It will take pressure on those in leadership to make intentional, genuine, and specific changes in the creative process. The conversations surrounding this need to continue — far beyond the month-long pride discourse every June.
If you are struggling with acceptance and who you are as a person, my hope is that you are finding support from those who will affirm, validate, and elevate you. I also hope you discover something that gives you joy — whether that’s the escapism of Star Wars or something else. Representation is critical now more than ever. Because for all of the kids watching Star Wars movies, reading Star Wars comics, playing with Star Wars action figures — it will mean everything for them to see that they belong.
We all belong in a galaxy far, far away. And so should our stories.