Where Were the Gays on Star Trek?

by | January 27, 2011
filed under Feminism, LGBT, Pop Culture

Riker falls for an androgynous alien in "The Outcast"

Saw this quote in an article on Queerty from Brannon Braga, Star Trek writer, co-producer of The Next Generation, and executive producer of Star Trek: Voyager. In an interview with AfterElton, Braga was asked why Star Trek had no gay characters:

“It was a shame for a lot of us that … I’m talking about the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and there was a constant back and forth about well how do we portray the spectrum of sexuality. There were people who felt very strongly that we should be showing casually, you know, just two guys together in the background in Ten Forward. At the time the decision was made not to do that and I think those same people would make a different decision now because I think, you know, that was 1989, well yeah about 89, 90, 91. I have no doubt that those same creative players wouldn’t feel so hesitant to have, you know, have been squeamish about a decision like that.”

I was raised on Star Trek, watching The Next Generation with my older siblings every week. My room from grades 5-8 was dominated by posters of Deep Space Nine and Voyager characters, and I slept with a map of the Star Trek universe above my bed. Even though I wasn’t the most popular kid in class, I’m still a proud Trekkie and feminist, so I was taken aback that I’d never thought about the lack of gay characters in the Trek universe.
 
It’s not like Gene Roddenberry didn’t intend for there to be homosexual crew. In 1991 he told The Advocate there would be gay characters on The Next Generation, but he died that year and the other producers weren’t able to make it happen.
 
In The Next Generation, the closest we got was an episode where the horndog First Officer Riker falls in love with Soren, a member of an androgynous race that views gender expression as a perversion. However, they still chose to have women play Soren and the other aliens, taking out some of the political punch that could’ve been created by having Riker kiss a male. In another Next Gen episode, Dr. Crusher falls in love with a male Trill, whose essence is then transferred into a female host, causing Crusher to end the relationship.

Scene from the DS9 episode "Rejoined"

We finally got a same-sex kiss in Deep Space Nine, when Trill Jadzia Dax considers re-establishing a relationship with a woman whose host was married to one of her previous male hosts. Although they make it clear gender has nothing to do with it, the two women eventually decide to part ways rather than break the Trill taboo of rekindling former hosts’ relationships.

There were a few other random homosexual or bisexual aliens and mirror universe denizens over the rest of the Star Trek series, but no main characters. What’s maybe even more important is what Braga mentions in his quote about never seeing any gay background characters. We never saw two men holding hands in Quark’s Bar on DS9. We never saw two women with their arms around each other at one of the Voyager crew’s holodeck luaus. And we never saw a trans character where the gender ambiguity wasn’t part of their alien traits. Therefore, even when they tried to address equality for gays and lesbians, it was in a context that treated heterosexuality as the norm. It sent the message, even if it wasn’t intentional, that for some reason there were no gays in the 24th century.

I still think Star Trek was a pretty progressive show and it did a good job of addressing equality for women and blacks, but I’m definitely going to be watching any reruns more closely now that I’ve realized I never noticed the omission of LGBT characters.

-Jarrah


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  • Leah Jane

    Very very true. I can remember my sweetheart telling me while we were watching the TNG episode “The Offspring” that Whoopi Goldberg, playing Guinan, fought long and hard to change one of her lines. Originally it was, “When a man and a woman are in love” and she changed it to, “When two people are in love” when explaining expressions of physical affection to Data’s daughter Lal. Apparently that episode was supposed to have a same-sex couple holding hands, but somebody axed it at the last minute.
    Good on Whoopi though at least.

    • jarrahpenguin

      Neat! That’s a cool fact about Whoopi!

  • White heterosexual and proud

    You know why there are no gay and trans people in Star Trek? Because it was set in the future, after the cure has been discovered.

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  • Earl Jones

    I’m totally against adding gay characters to Star Trek! Star Trek has successfully lasted as long as it did for not adding gay characters and remaining straight. The problem with the world today is that we are letting the gays have their way in everything. If they want to be gay, let them be gay and give them their own TV station where they can create their own gay shows. If the gays want to get married, let them but we don’t have to legalize it in every state. But, keep those gays out of my favorite TV shows! If they make Star Trek gay, they will certainly loose a majority of dedicated fans including myself. Gays need to understand that most people are not gay, approve of being gay, nor want to watch gay shows! Gene Roddenberry was straight and did not envision a gay Star Trek! All the producers will be doing is destroying the creativity of Roddenberry’s legacy if they add gay characters to the show. Marraige and sexual relationships should only be between a man and woman or male and female in any case! A child needs a mother and father not two homos! God first created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. That is my opinion and I’m sticking with it no matter what!

  • Earl, the ‘creativity of Roddenberry’s legacy” IS inclusion. Acceptance. EVERYONE getting along. A future without petty squabbles and prejudices. That is the very CORE of what Roddenberry strove to portray through Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    Saying that Roddenberry did not envision a “gay Star Trek” tells me you didn’t even read the article referencing that Roddenberry HIMSELF planned on adding a gay character to Next Gen prior to his death.

    Saying that it’s okay to be gay only so long as you aren’t gay OPENLY is the very ANTITHESIS of what Star Trek is all about. You may have your own opinion on this in how it relates to Star Trek, but the reality of it is that that opinion is wrong. Star Trek is about inclusion, not segregation.