Thousands of people have backed a petition calling on Star Wars to introduce the films' first LGBT character. The move comes in honour of Christopher Andrew "Drew" Leinonen, who was killed during the Orlando attack alongside his boyfriend at Pulse nightclub.

The petition has gained more than 6,000 signatures and was started by Leionen's best friend, Joshua Yehl, who noted that it was Star Wars that brought the two of them together. He is now hoping that an LGBT character in Star Wars will begin to tackle homophobia and has even received support from Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker.

Speaking to IBTimes UK, Yehl said: "With an LGBT character in something as rousing and inspiring as Star War, there's a chance that those young LGBT people out there will be shown that it's okay to be who they are and not be afraid. I want Drew to be the inspiration for a Star Wars character so all those little gay nerds out there have their own Star Wars character to look up to."

While Yehl doesn't know why the Orlando shooter did what he did, he had no doubt that it was motivated by hate. He said he feared for young gay people who were about to come out of the closet and had witnessed what had happened to LGBT people at Pulse nightclub, adding that it was more important than ever for pop culture and mainstream media to portray all types of people.

Thousands of people have left comments supporting the petition to #PutDrewInStarWars, with some LGBT Star Wars fans pleading with the film creators to take the step to "be the hero of LGBT nerds". Yehl said that despite Star Wars fans being a passionate group who are sensitive about changes to what they love, he has had little backlash for starting the petition.

Joshua Yehl and Drew
Joshua Yehl with his friend, Drew Leinonen, who was killed during the Orlando attack at Pulse nightclub. Joshua Yehl

Yehl said: "Star Wars brings people together because they love it, so it's my hope that if Star Wars gets an LGBT character, then people will have less of a reason to feel hate towards us. Change has to start somewhere, and because Star Wars is such a popular and iconic franchise across the globe, it has the power to help the world take a big step forward."

Yehl acknowledged that Star Wars has already taken steps to include demographics that were previously underrepresented, citing the addition of a leading woman and black man in the Force Awakens. He also commended Force Awakens director JJ Abrams who said that it would be "insanely narrow-minded" to say there would never be a homosexual character in that world.