As both a gay man and a life-long Trekkie, the arrival of the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise held a special treat for me: the first ever openly LGBT characters to appear on the any Trek TV series.
It is hard to believe that a franchise which has always been groundbreaking since it first aired 50 years ago is only just getting around to featuring LGBT characters. Star Trek is the show that shocked audiences everywhere with TV’s first interracial kiss back in 1968. Later series brought the first black captain, and followed with the first female captain. Star Trek has never been afraid to tackle racism, sexism, genocide, and a whole host of other difficult social issues.
Although every Trek series has pushed the envelope a little bit, strangely none of them have dared include characters who are LGBT (not even “redshirts”!).
When asked about this in 2008, Ronald D. Moore — writer and who wrote and directed many Star Trek series, said “The truth is it [having LGBT character] was not really a priority for any of us on the staff so it wasn’t really something that was strong on anybody’s radar”
Naturally, this frustrated a lot of LGBT Star Trek fans. Some even resorted to producing their own series in order to have LGBT characters. Fan-produced series Star Trek New Voyages even recycled a rejected script from Star Trek: The Next Generation called Blood and Fire which had a plotline centered around gay lovers.
Fast forward to 2017 and along comes Star Trek: Discovery with a ton of radical changes. The USS Discovery has BOTH an Asian female captain AND a black female first officer. And of course my favorite characters, Chief Engineer Paul Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) and ship’s doctor Hugh Culber (played by Wilson Cruz of Noah’s Arc).
Both characters are complex and well-written. Not the melodramatic gay stereotypes we might expect, and not objects of pity either. Stamets and Culber are actually quite flawed – which is why I enjoy them so much. Stamets is flippant and rude. Culber has trouble maintaining professional distance from his colleague/lover and often runs into conflict-of-interest issues. I find it to be a wonderfully realistic portrayal of a relationship.
So what changed to bring LGBT characters to the show in such a prominent way? Series creator Bryan Fuller is openly gay. Showrunner Aaron Harberts is also gay. Maybe that is what makes all the difference. Maybe when people who are part of a minority get into positions of power, they bring with them real change.
If that is indeed the case, LGBT Trekkies like myself have a lot to look forward to.
Who knows, maybe the next Star Trek series will even have an LGBT person in the captain’s chair?