National Press Club

Horde of Trekkies hears 'Star Trek' star George Takei defend gay rights at luncheon

October 18, 2013 | By Richard Lee |

'Star Trek' star George Takei at podium with NPC President Angela Greiling Keane

'Star Trek' star George Takei at podium with NPC President Angela Greiling Keane

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Trekkies flocked to the National Press Club to welcome actor, activist and TV cult figure George Takei at a National Press Club luncheon Oct. 18.

The Japanese-American actor's long-running role as Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the 1960s TV series "Star Trek" and the six subsequent, successful Paramount feature films that were an outgrowth of that small-screen phenomenon have made Takei a cult-figure among sci-fi fans.

It was Takei's role as activist and his trademark humor that took center stage in the Club's ballroom, which Takei described as looking like an "elegant Star Trek convention."

Takei has become an outspoken advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered people, and also for the rights of Japanese-Americans wrongly incarcerated during World War II.

Both issues have deep personal meaning for the actor.

As Japanese-Americans, Takei was imprisoned with his parents for a year in an internment camp.

"It was painful and degrading, but children are amazingly adaptable," he said. "What would be grotesquely abnormal became my normality behind those barbed wire fences."

Despite the injustice, he said, "Many young Japanese-American men volunteered for service, and they served this country with valor and distinction."

Takei's starring role in a new musical, "Allegiance" recounts that experience. It played recently at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and is headed for Broadway this season, he said.

Takei's sexual orientation also set him apart.

"I knew I was different, but in high school, I wanted to be a part of the gang," he said. "So when the other boys were saying that Monica was hot, and Sally was cute, I went along with it. I thought Monica and Sally were nice, but Bobby was exciting. Whenever he came near me or talked to me, my heart started to pound."

Later, living in New York, Takei discovered a gay bars. Though he developed a comfortable social life, there was also the threat of police raids and exposure, he said.

"Whenever I walked into a new gay bar, I always looked for the exits," he said. "We lived in constant, ever-present fear of being exposed."

Policies he disliked, including "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act propelled him into activism, he said.

"In the year 2005, I came out as gay," Takei said. "I realized I had to speak out about the issues."

He joined Human Rights Campaign,went on a national speaking tour and lobbied politicians. He also married Brad, his partner of many years, in a California ceremony performed at a Japanese-American museum. The late Sen. Daniel Inouye attended.

Takei is "optimistic" about a better future for LGBT people as public opinion shifts. He noted a recent California poll that found most people under age 39 strongly support equality for LGBT people.

"I love young people," he said. "Especially young straight couples, because they're going to be making the gay babies of tomorrow. And it's for them that we have to be change agents today."

An openly gay actor now has a place in Star Trek's alternative universe, he noted. In the latest version of the popular sci-fi franchise, Zachary Quinto, who is gay, plays Spock.

"It's a changed world now," Takei said. "We have an out-gay Vulcan."

Attendees of the VIP reception looking for photos can find them here.