There's a lot to be excited for in Star Trek: Discovery, and after ten years off the air expectations are understandably high for the new show. Every Trekkie out there has a wish list for Discovery, from the era it's set in to the plots it'll explore. But after years of struggling with censors, many people were hoping to finally see an LGBT leading character in Star Trek: Discovery — and now it sounds as though that wish has been granted.
When speaking with Trekmovie at SDCC, executive producer Heather Kadin was asked if the new show would incorporate LGBT characters. This was her reply:
"Obviously that’s important to Bryan, so that’s very important to all of us to portray."
It's too early to tell if these LGBT characters will be part of the main cast, but it's fantastic to know that they will incorporated in some way — especially when we consider the long, long road to get to this point.
A Glaring Omission From The Franchise
There are many reasons why LGBT representation is so important to include in Star Trek, and they're mostly to do with the Federation's purpose — Gene Roddenberry intended this futuristic society to be the pinnacle of human evolution, stressing many times in The Original Series that humanity has moved beyond such primitive notions as violence, greed, and even eating meat. (Yes, in TOS and TNG it is stated that the replicators create foods like steak without actually harming animals.)
But incorporating a main LGBT character, and queer themes, into the everyday makeup of the show really was the final frontier for Star Trek. While Trek touted the importance of diversity, breaking boundaries in regards to racial representation, there is a surprising lack of LGBT characters. Why ignore this social issue, in a franchise known for its intersectionality?
This omission was glaringly obvious even as far back as The Next Generation — just before he died, Gene Roddenberry promised to introduce a gay character to the next season of TNG. Unfortunately, this never came to pass, and in the years that followed many writers attempted to fulfill Roddenberry's promise. And in small subtle ways, they succeeded.
The TNG episode "The Outcast" featured a character (Soren) who we can now recognize as a transwoman, and her story was intended to work as an allegory for gay rights, as she fought for her right to love whomever she chose. Later on, Deep Space Nine introduced the bisexual Jadzia Dax, a Trill who had lived as several genders throughout their long life. While never obliquely stated and existing mainly in subtext, Jadzia's bisexuality was hinted at occasionally, and came to the fore in the episode "Rejoined", in which her ex-wife (Lenara Khan) returned.
But these portrayals of LGBT people were not easy to get from the page to the screen. For "The Outcast", Jonathon Frakes urged the execs to have Soren be played by a male actor, and identify as male, in order to make the queer themes more apparent. The suggestion went unheeded. For "Rejoined", Lenara was written as male in the original script, and changed to female after the script had been approved by the network.
Going Beyond That Final Frontier
These portrayals may have been victories, but they were small ones. Star Trek was still lacking in a clear LGBT lead, and one-off episodes that dealt with queer themes weren't exactly in line with what Roddenberry had promised. This is one of the reasons why Sulu having a husband in Star Trek: Beyond was met with such a positive response from fans — after years of LGBT themes being shoved into subtext, Sulu being established as gay quietly but firmly proved that in this vision of humanity's future, the gender of the person you love really does not matter at all.
Of course, this subject should still be dealt with carefully. It seems highly unlikely that Bryan Fuller would resort to tokenism — including an LGBT character and having their entire characterization revolve around their sexuality or gender — and we're confident that this portrayal will be interesting and sensitive to queer politics. The real danger is that this character's sexuality or gender will be shoved into subtext as in previous iterations of the franchise. Clearly, a balance between these two extremes must be struck.
There is another danger — that LGBT characters won't be leads, or even secondary, but relegated to tertiary status. Or heaven forfend, just be one-episode-wonders. And we'll just have to hope that won't be the case.
This isn't the first time we've heard of LGBT characters in Star Trek: Discovery — when speaking with Collider last month, Fuller talked about the importance of including queer characters in the new show.
A major factor in this seems to the move to CBS' new online streaming platform. In the interview, Fuller also mentioned that this allowed them to show darker plotlines and more graphic material than they could on network TV. Considering that network standards and practices guidelines were preventing LGBT characters in the past, this seems particularly convenient for Discovery to have greater freedom. It seems as though this show really will go where Trek has never gone before — and about time too.