Star Trek as a franchise has often touched upon social issues via metaphor and innuendo. The show hasn’t had issues discussing hot button topics or being rather progressive in some of its views, such as being credited for the “first interracial kiss.” However, in the 50 years of the franchise, the series has never had an out LGBTQ character, until today.
In the Herald Sun, it was revealed that Helmsman Hikaru Sulu, played by John Cho, is shown in Star Trek Beyond as not just having a daughter, but also in a same-sex relationship. Director Justin Lin said the decision to make Sulu gay was a nod by writer Simon Pegg towards George Takei who originally played the character and came out in 2005.
The inclusion of LGBTQ characters in the Star Trek world hasn’t been an easy one.
In 1987 series creator Gene Roddenberry stated there’d be LGBTQ characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that never materialized. That promise was reiterated in 1991 as reported by The Advocate and supported by Leonard Nimoy who wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times on the subject. In an interview with The Humanist in 1991 Roddenberry said:
My attitude toward homosexuality has changed. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. I was never someone who hunted down ‘fags’ as we used to call them on the street. I would, sometimes, say something anti-homosexual off the top of my head because it was thought, in those days, to be funny. I never really deeply believed those comments, but I gave the impression of being thoughtless in these areas. I have, over many years, changed my attitude about gay men and women.
Roddenberry passed away soon after those interviews and the plan for gay crew members never materialized.
The series stumbled over the years to address LGBTQ inclusion including a controversial episode “The Outcast” which was both praised and derided. The episode addressed sexual discrimination and involved an androgynous race and gender identity. Some felt the episode didn’t go far enough to exploring the issue and others felt it sanctioned brainwashing therapy. Actor Jonathan Frakes commented he felt the alien the episode revolved around and whose attraction to Riker was at the center should have been more evidently male.
Star Trek television writer and producer Ronald D. Moore admitted that including LGBTQ characters was something that they “just failed at” in a 2008 interview. Actors such as Kate Mulgrew and Whoopi Goldberg have admitted it was a struggle for the various series and there were disagreements regarding decisions to not include such characters.
In 2016 Queer Frontier was launched to petition for the inclusion of an LGBT captain in the 2017 Star Trek television show by CBS, Paramount, and producer Bryan Fuller. The organization applauded this announcement.
J.J. Abrams addressed the issue in 2011 saying he was “shocked” that there were never any gay characters and while it “was not on the list of [his] priorities… it [would] now be in the hopper.” While there were no LGBTQ characters in his two films written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the third times a charm with Simon Pegg having now taken over on writing duties.
Star Trek Beyond opens in theaters July 22, 2016.