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George Takei: Why there were no gay characters on Star Trek

By Attitude Magazine

Star Trek star George Takei has revealed details of a secret discussion he had with series creator Gene Roddenberry about the lack of LBGT characters across the entire duration of the iconic science fiction TV series.

Speaking in a Big Think video published yesterday on Youtube, Takei – who played Hikaru Sulu on the Starship Enterprise – said he had “very privately” brought up the absence of gays and lesbians with the creator of the series that would go to include a global film and merchandise franchise.

2014 Sundance Film Festival - George Takei Portraits

“He [Roddenberry] was certainly, as a sophisticated man, mindful of that, but he said — in one episode we had a biracial kiss, Captain Kirk and Uhura had a kiss,” said Takei.

“That show was literally blacked out in the South — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia didn’t air that… [and] our ratings plummeted. It was the lowest-rated episode that we had.”

Takei is referring to 1968 episode Plato’s Stepchildren, which saw actors William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols famously embrace each other in an out of this world kiss, which made Roddenberry feel he was treading a fine, tight wire with “issues of the time”.

For the same reason, Takei said this came at the cost of using the series to talk about issues facing the LBGT community.

“I’m dealing with the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and I need to be able to make that statement by staying on the air,” said Takei.

“He [Roddenberry] said, ‘If I dealt with that issue I wouldn’t be able to deal with any issue because I would be cancelled.’”


Takei said he felt the way Star Trek envisioned a 23rd Century “Utopian society” was in itself quite a bold political move for the time.

“Gene Roddenberry felt that the Enterprise was a metaphor for starship earth and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity,” he said.

“People of many different backgrounds, many different cultures, many different experiences, [and] many different ethnicities coming together and working in concert as a team boldly going where no one had gone before. And that was depicted in the makeup of the crew. African-American women as the communications chief, the captain was a North American. The engineer was a European and my character Sulu was to represent Asia.”

Takei said the problem [Roddenberry] had was finding an Asian name appropriate for his character, given each Asian surname held national ties. “Tanaka is Japanese. Wong is Chinese. Kim is Korean. And 20th century Asia was turbulent with warfare, colonization, rebellion, and he didn’t want to suggest that,” said Takei.

“He had a map of Asia pinned on the wall and he was staring at it trying to get some inspiration for the Asian character. And he found, off the coast of the Philippines, the Sulu Sea.

“And he thought, ‘Ah, the waters of the sea touch all shores, embracing all of Asia. And that’s how my character came to have the name Sulu.”