By Josh Inocéncio
Illustration by Caleb Smith
In November, CBS announced that Star Trek would return to television in 2017, a platform where, as the New York Times joked, it’s boldly been before.
As we watch the sci-fi franchise venture back into familiar territory, I challenge the creators to boldly go where no Star Trek series has gone before: placing an openly gay captain at the helm of the Enterprise. That’s right. A gay captain. Not some expendable red-shirt who’s dead by episode three.
The reason I love Star Trek (even slightly more than Star Wars—yes, I said it!) is because the series has always soared to the final frontier of social-justice issues. During the Civil Rights movement and the Cold War, the original 1966 Star Trek presented us with a diverse crew featuring Sulu, a Japanese helmsman; Chekov, a Russian security officer; and Uhura, an African communications officer. Although 1960s-era sexism did infiltrate the writing, Star Trek projected a future where there is no longer any race or gender discrimination on Earth (as characters in each installment frequently point out). By the 1990s, Deep Space Nine and Voyager even featured an African-American captain and a female captain, respectively. Yet despite this longstanding commitment to representing minority groups, the show hasn’t been nearly as progressive with representing LGBT individuals.
To be fair, Star Trek is no stranger to LGBT-themed episodes. There are scarce examples in The Original Series, but The Next Generation, starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, pushed the envelope with several episodes, including “The Offspring” where Commander Data creates a genderless android child who chooses to be a woman, and “The Outcast” where Commander Riker falls in love with Soren, a female-identified member of the androgynous J’naii species that shuns gender binaries and ultimately persecutes Soren. Later, Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise featured episodes that lightly addressed LGBT-related issues, but none with an openly gay or lesbian character.
As we can see, Star Trek has a history of producing episodes that challenge gender and sexuality norms. But other sci-fi and superhero series are in LGBT warp drive, rapidly leaving Star Trek stuck in the 20th century—the same bygone era that it professes to have evolved beyond. For example, the X-Men films have introduced a pansexual Deadpool, the comics have confirmed a gay Iceman, and CW’s The Flash and Arrow have featured a gay villain and a bisexual superhero. When asked if society is ready for a gay superhero, Arrow actor John Barrowman replied, “Personally, I don’t care if they are or not. It’s time we had one.”
So not only does the prevalence of LGBT characters on television set the stage for a gay captain in Star Trek, but we are also living in an era where our president has repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has appointed the first openly gay Secretary of the Army. Since Starfleet is a military entity, I’m sure Spock would agree that a gay captain is only logical.
Of course, even with the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality ruling and the repeal of DADT, our society still hasn’t abandoned homophobia. But since we’re increasingly rejecting strict gender and sexuality roles, a gay captain would further challenge heteronormativity by promoting equal representation. Fans—especially Millennials who are coming out of the closet at younger ages—are ready for a gay man or a lesbian to assume the captain’s chair. In addition, a gay captain (the most authoritative figure on a starship) would absolutely empower young people who are questioning their identities and coming to terms with their sexuality.
And does anyone question the contributions of gay Star Trek actors George Takei and Zachary Quinto? With these two activists rallying Trekkies across the sexuality spectrum, I don’t think fans doubt the ability of a gay captain to explore strange new worlds and face-offs with Klingons.
At the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1992, Mark Altman revealed in the Cinefantastique magazine article “Tackling Gay Rights” that creator Gene Roddenberry told LGBT fans that he’d commit to representing gay characters in The Next Generation. One of the show’s writers, David Gerrold, even wrote an episode called “Blood and Fire” that featured a same-sex couple. However, the episode went unproduced because Roddenberry and the creative team ultimately weren’t ready to air material that seemed too controversial at the time. Certainly, the writers for the new series can redress this exclusion.
If Star Trek is going to continue envisioning a utopian future with advanced medical technology, peace on Earth, and the Prime Directive that seeks to rectify colonialism, it’s only going to blast itself in the foot by marginalizing queer identities. The show that brought us the first television kiss in U.S. history between a white man and a black woman can’t afford to neglect any demographic without reneging on its continuing mission.
And for goodness’ sake, let’s not forget that the show has been comfortably representing interspecies relationships ever since the 1960s. If Captain Kirk is shacking up with green aliens, I daresay a gay captain pursuing a romance on the Enterprise wouldn’t be out of this galaxy!
Your move, CBS.
Josh Inocéncio is a playwright and freelance writer. A Houston-area native, he finished his master’s in theater studies at Florida State University and produced his first play, Purple Eyes, before returning to Texas last May.