George Takei explains lack of LGBT characters in Star Trek

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The actor, activist, prolific meme-generator and cultural icon has revealed he once asked Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry why the original TV series did not feature LGBT characters.

Mr Takei – who played Sulu on the long-running sci-fi series – recently discussed diversity in the show, and told how he had questioned the show’s creator regarding the lack of LGBT characters on the Starship Enterprise.

“I did very privately bring up the issue of gays and lesbians,” he said in the video for Big Think.

“And he 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.”

The episode in question was the infamous Plato’s Stepchildren, which aired in 1968 and saw the characters – played by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols – passionately lock lips.

Mr Takei says that Roddenberry wanted to deal with as many issues as he could, but also had to be mindful of censors and audience numbers.

“That [episode] was literally blacked out in the South — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia didn’t air that; our ratings plummeted,” Takei continued.

“It was the lowest-rated episode that we had. And [Roddenberry] said, ‘I’m treading a fine tight wire here. I’m dealing with issues of the time. 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.’ He said, ‘If I dealt with that issue I wouldn’t be able to deal with any issue because I would be canceled.’”

However, the actor said that Roddenberry had succeeded in bringing diversity to the television in a number of other ways.

One such example was how Takei’s character got the name of Sulu. He explained how the crew of the Enterprise was meant to embody the various cultures of the world, and Takei’s character represented Asia.

As Takei described: “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.”

Last month, it was announced that Mr Takei and fellow out actor, Matt Bomer, are to provide narration a new documentary that uncovers the historic persecution of gay people by the US government.

The film Uniquely Nasty, which will air online as part of Yahoo’s Viewfinder series, looks at systematic oppression that people faced for decades over their sexuality.

Watch the full video below.