Former Star Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga was recently interviewed by After Elton on the subject of the lack of homosexual characters in the Trek universe. Speaking as to what would happen today if given an opportunity to be more inclusive he asserted, “…I think those same people [Trek producers] would make a different decision now…” Like many other comments from Trek officials over the years, this seems to translates to a big “oops, we’re sorry!”
So just when will the enlightened Star Trek universe get around to embracing infinite diversity in infinite combinations?
The initial of the exclusion of gays from Trek may be linked to the death of The Great Bird of the Galaxy himself. In a 1991 interview with The Humanist magazine, Gene Roddenberry admitted to making homophobic comments in his past, which he openly regretted. “I never really deeply believed those comments, but I gave the impression of being thoughtless in those areas.” Later that same year, Roddenberry told The Advocate that, “In the 5th season [of Star Trek: The Next Generation] viewers will see more of shipboard life including gay crew members in day-to-day circumstances.” Gene Roddenberry died in 1991, and since then in the officially licensed on-screen Star Trek universe stories, an actual homosexual person has yet to be depicted.
However, Star Trek has made some obvious attempts to address this issue on numerous occasions. The TNG episode “The Outcast” featured an androgynous species of aliens who were forbidden from choosing a preferred gender by a draconian government. After falling in love with one of the aliens, Riker becomes an advocate of their right to choose their own gender. The Deep Space Nine episode “Rejoined” featured a same sex kiss between Jadzia Dax and Lenara Kahn, a former paramour of an earlier host of Dax's. DS9 also featured numerous mirror-universe versions of the main cast who exhibited bisexual tendencies, specifically the alternate version of Kira.
But, as many fan advocacy groups have pointed out, most of this is simply not enough. The kiss featured between Jadiza and Lenara was not a lesbian kiss, because of the fact that the symbiont inside of Lenara had previously inhabited the body of a man. The aliens in “The Outcast” were all played by female actors, a casting decision Jonathan Frakes (Riker) was against. The bisexual Kira from the mirror universe is an evil character who seems completely insane, and by no means a symbol of enlightened sensibilities about sexuality in the future.
In 1995, a group of fans started the Voyager Visibility Project, a petition to Rick Berman and Paramount calling for the inclusion of GLBT characters in Trek, and though there was a brief rumor that Seven of Nine would indeed be a lesbian, this turned out to be false and the matter was never addressed by the show or showrunners.
In the non-canonical corners of the Trek universe, there have been some notable strides. In 2008, James Cawley's fan-run web series Star Trek: Phase II eventually filmed and aired the episode “Blood & Fire.” The episode, written by David Gerrold originally for The Next Generation featured not only a 24th century version of HIV/AIDS, but also a gay couple as its central protagonists. The Phase II folks adapted this into the 23rd century version of Trek for their web series, receiving a considerable amount of praise for the finished episode.
Additionally, the character of Lt. Hawk, the short-lived helmsman of the Enterprise-E from First Contact is also purportedly gay. In the Trek novel Rogue, Hawk has a committed relationship with a character named Keru, which is met with natural and casual acceptance by the other members of the crew. Naturally! This makes it a shame that Hawk was nothing more than a footnote redshirt character in the film in which he appeared. Incidentally, Rogue was the bestselling Star Trek book title of 2001, the year it was released.
So, with the newly popular Star Trek film series firmly in place, will we finally see gay characters aboard the Starship Enterprise? The interview from Braga seems to indicate one shouldn’t hold one’s breath. Though not affiliated with the J.J. Abrams reboot in any way, Braga was asked if fans should be upset if the new film doesn’t feature gay characters and had this to say:
Well, I mean, the movie is such a different bird. If there were a TV series, I would agree with you. But for a movie, I personally wouldn’t.
With openly gay/bi/omni-sexual characters on shows like Caprica, Doctor Who, and Torchwood, it seems time for Trek to step up.
Here’s hoping Braga’s prediction is wrong.
Ryan’s writing has appeared here, on Nerve.com, Clarkesworld Magazine and elswhere. He lives in Brooklyn.