Star Trek is a franchise renowned for its progressive approach to social politics, displaying a diverse slate of actors even back in the 1960s. Over the decades, the many shows have dealt with thorny issues like slavery, oppression, xenophobia, religion, eugenics, police brutality and many many more. But incorporating a main #LGBT character into the cast was a final frontier that Star Trek never quite reached. Never, that is, until Star Trek: Discovery.
In October last year, Star Trek: Discovery made waves when it was announced that this would be the first Trek show to have an out-and-proud gay character as part of the cast. Played by Rent's Anthony Rapp, Lt Stamets is the character in question, a science officer serving on the USS Discovery who specializes in astromycology (a term coined in this pun-heavy Harvard paper — think space fungus).
Now, Discovery producer Alex Kurtzman has opened up about why the creative team decided to finally cross that final frontier and include a queer character in Discovery. As he told Collider, times have changed, and there's really no excuse for any show — specifically Star Trek— to ignore the LGBT population.
"I don’t feel that—going back to what you said about where television is at right now, it would be foolish of us to not only ignore it but not to take advantage of the fact that that’s how people are consuming stories and they’re hungrier for more complicated stories. What would have been a taboo subject 10, 15 years ago is now everywhere, and that’s a beautiful thing."
TV is a very, very different place now than it was in the 1990s when Star Trek was at its height. LGBT stories are being much better represented as a part of many genre shows, with series like Orange Is The New Black, Sense8, Supergirl, Orphan Black, and now American Gods incorporating multiple queer characters and themes into their storylines. In fact, GLAAD reported that 2016 was a hallmark year in LGBT representation — though there's still a long way to go.
Star Trek's Long Struggle With Censors
Back when Star Trek was airing though, it was a very different story. The franchise actually has a difficult history when it comes to LGBT representation. It wasn't that the writers didn't want to include queer characters, quite the contrary. Before he died, Gene Roddenberry even promised to add a gay character to the main cast, but this turned out to be a vain hope. Many a risque moment in Star Trek's history was accompanied with a struggle with TV censors, and although the writers managed to sneak some LGBT commentary in — and even one of TV's first lesbian kisses in Deep Space Nine's "Rejoined" — they were never able to add an obliquely queer character to the main cast.
It's worth noting, of course, that DS9's Jadzia Dax was definitely bisexual (and fluidly gendered), making her Star Trek's first main queer character. However, her sexuality is only dealt with in one episode, and although the writers wanted to give her another female love interest, her attraction to women was delegated to subtext for the vast majority of the show. This meant that her bisexuality flew over most viewers' heads, which is exactly what the censors wanted.
For any other TV show this would just be part and parcel of the media climate. However, Star Trek's futuristic setting was always meant to send an optimistic message about what humanity could and should achieve. Picard's constant moral speeches were meant to teach lessons, and the diverse actors that made up the cast were supposed to prove that in the future, humanity has overcome social differences. Following this logic, it doesn't actually make any in-world sense that there wouldn't be at least several LGBT characters throughout Star Trek's many shows. If we truly have overcome our prejudices and oppressive social norms, then why is everyone straight?
Of course, for all its grand ambitions and morals, Star Trek is still a product of the era it was created in. So although it is saddening that it took us until 2017 for a gay character to be part of the main cast of a Star Trek show, Discovery's Lt Stamets finally proves that Star Trek's future really is one of equality and opportunity, regardless of what gender, race, or sexuality you are. Roddenberry would be proud.
Tell us in the comments: What are you most looking forward to seeing in Star Trek: Discovery?