George Takei: Roddenberry forced to 'compromise' on gay rights

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

The '60s may have been swinging, but everything was NOT groovy. We had those awesome mod fashions, sure, but we also had war and social oppression. Enter Star Trek, which tried to do something about that. Thanks to the broad-minded Gene Roddenberry, the original series touched on topics that may seem quaint today but other shows avoided like the Phyrox plague: interracial romance, the Vietnam war and the Cold War. But not, according to George Takei, homosexuality.

Takei is a marriage equality activist, and he and his partner Brad Altman became the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in West Hollywood. But Takei was not openly homosexual back when Star Trek was being filmed. And it turns out that he once approached Roddenberry—carefully—to discuss the possibility of the series airing a storyline about gay rights.

Here's how that conversation played out according to a recent interview in Salon:

How do you think Gene Roddenberry would have dealt with the struggle for marriage equality?

I had a very private conversation with Gene on that issue. I was still not out, so we spoke theoretically. This was at one of his parties—it wasn't a huge party. We were at the pool and he and I swam out to the far end and we were chatting there. Most of the people were not in the pool. They were chatting poolside at the other end, so I broached that subject.

You know, we'd dealt with the Vietnam War. We'd dealt with the civil rights movement. We'd dealt with a lot of issues of our times. And I asked him, "How do you feel about that [gay rights]?" He said, "This is an important issue and we want to deal with it." However, this was while we were on TV. He said, "Our ratings are low and I need to keep the show on the air. All I need is another firestorm and this show will be canceled, and I won't be able to make those statements that I've been making with the show." He said, "The times will change as we move along, but at this point, I can't do that." So again, it was the politic compromise, like what poor Bill Clinton had to make.

It's kind of a shame that Roddenberry didn't give gay rights the attention he gave civil rights. As Nichele Nichols explained, Martin Luther King Jr. himself told her how important her role was for all African-Americans.

What do you think? Should Roddenberry have broached the hot-button topic? Or was his silence golden?