No Shame! / He’s forever fixed as the helmsman who went on a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds on the Starship Enterprise before becoming a bonafide pop culture icon. But after confirming that he was gay in 2005, he’s also become known as one of the strongest advocates for civil rights. George Takei visits Oahu this week to speak on the gay Japanese American experience in Hawaii as well as the significant role played by the 442nd, the World War II combat team, in American history.
“It was a slow process,” Takei says about his Star Fleet colleagues learning about his sexuality. “When you’re a young actor, you get rejected for all sorts of reasons. You didn’t want to have another reason why they could reject you. But when you’re doing a series, you’re working together with people for a long period of time and you have wrap parties and people bring their wives and husbands, and I used to bring a friend with me. And they were always guys. Hollywood people are sophisticated people. They’re like, ‘Oh, I get it. George is… mmm hmm.’”
“I realized my cast members knew when I was talking with Walter Koenig [Chekov] and he started moving his head for me to turn around and I looked behind me and there was a gorgeous young male extra wearing the tight Star Fleet uniform. Great pectorals. That’s when I knew Walter knew and I thanked him for that.”
(For the record, the poor guy and his pectorals ended up dying in that particular episode.)
And the rumors of bad blood with William Shatner about Captain Kirk being not cool with Takei’s sexuality?
“Bill [Shatner] is not very cool, period. We sent wedding invitations to all my Star Trek colleagues and we sent one to Bill too and he was the only one who did not respond. And that’s typical of Bill. A month-and-a-half after the wedding, Bill goes on the Internet complaining that I never invited him. I was completely baffled. He didn’t RSVP. Then he was on The Howard Stern Show and he started going on and on about how he doesn’t understand why I disinvited him. We did not disinvite him. He just did not respond.”
Later on the show, Stern asked Shatner what he thought of Takei’s partner, Brad Altman. In true form, Shatner responded, “Who’s Brad?”
Takei met Altman 23 years ago at a running club and they’ve been married for the past three years. Koenig was best man and Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols was best lady. But even with the current climate of hope in California, Takei is very aware of Gov. Lingle’s veto of HB444.
“A civil union,” he exclaims. “That’s second-class marriage and she vetoed that and she wants to put it to the vote of the people. Does that woman understand what the Constitution says? You cannot put a fundamental constitutional right up to a vote of the people. Slavery would still be the rule in the American South. Your governor… You need to have more educated, more enlightened governors. Why don’t you have more enlightened governors? What’s the matter with the people of Hawaii?”
This is one of the reasons he will be speaking at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii for No Shame!, Talking About the Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transgender Japanese American Experience in Hawaii. Takei’s keynote address will be titled Embracing Change.
“Essentially we are changing, have changed and American democracy is dynamic. When the nation was founded, there was no role for women in American society. I am confident that in terms of LGBT issues too, we will change.”
He will also be providing an introduction on Sunday’s morning screening of the documentary 442nd: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity which concerns the most highly decorated Army unit in our country’s military history–a unit that was made up primarily of Japanese Americans. Takei appears in the film as one of the interviewees.
“I’m interviewed as someone who was a kid in the internment camps during the time [the 442nd] were serving. We as Japanese Americans owe who we are to their incredible valor and their patriotism.”
Up next for Takei? He’s working on a Broadway musical titled Allegiance, centered around a Japanese American family incarcerated in an internment camp during World War II. Also on board the project is Miss Saigon’s Lea Salonga.
Obviously the role and portrayal of Japanese Americans in contemporary society is of foremost importance to Takei. Here’s his take on the upcoming, buzz-hyped re-do of Hawaii Five-0:
“The reality of Hawaii is that Asians are if not the majority, at least half the population. Asians are the movers and shakers. They play the leading roles in Hawaii. There’s been Asian governors, Asian senators, Asian policemen, Asian crime lords and yet, when they do a TV series, it’s always a white guy playing the lead. And of all places, Hawaii. That’s where there should be an Asian playing the lead. Asians have yet to be given the acting opportunity to show our acting prowess. What we need to do is to be the creators of the productions, writers, producers…”
By George, he’s right.