The hit franchise ‘Star Trek’ is known for using its storylines to take on relevant social issues in its stories. But one touchy subject ‘The Original Series’ never addressed is same-sex relationships. George Takei, now a well-known voice in the LGBTQ community, played Mr. Sulu in ‘Star Trek: The Original Series.’ Speaking to PBS NewsHour, Takei says creator Gene Roddenberry was hesitant to introduce a gay character after airing the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” This particular episode included an interracial kiss between Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).
In the interview, Takei (still closeted at the time) states that he had proposed an idea about making an episode with a gay character to Roddenberry. He recalls Roddenberry saying, “You’re right, I’d like to do that, but I’m walking a tightrope. The interracial kiss was very controversial… And so I’ve got to keep the show on to tell the stories that I’m telling, which aren’t being dramatized metaphorically on any other show. I’ve got to keep the show on. And [a gay character], as you say, may be a bridge too far.”
This is completely understandable if you think about the social climate of that time period. Actually, a same-sex kiss wouldn’t be seen on ‘Star Trek’ until nearly 30 years later in 1995. The ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ episode “Rejoined” featured a kiss between Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax and guest star Susanna Thompson as Lenara Kahn. Farrell later stated that her character Dax was pansexual. There was a conversation in the documentary ‘What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘ about how Andrew Robinson’s character Garak’s was written as being gay although his sexuality is never addressed.
The 2016 film ‘Star Trek Beyond’ revealed that the Kelvin Timeline version of Sulu, played by John Cho, is gay. Meant to be a nod to Takei, the actor surprisingly was… unimpressed to say the least.
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The 2017 web series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is the first of the franchise to feature an openly gay couple as series regulars, Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets and Wilson Cruz as Hugh Culber. Cruz, a LGBTQ advocate, said in a 2018 interview:
“This franchise has been around for over 50 years, and to not have LGBT characters represented was an obvious missing piece of the world. So many LGBT people have been fans since the ’60s and have been wanting the LGBT community to be a part of this universe. For them to be thanking us, it’s so moving.”
While I understand Roddenberry’s hesitation of adding gay characters to storylines at the time due to fear of not being able to tell more important stories, I think it’s great that the franchise was able to use its platform to incorporate the LGBTQ community into it’s series.