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.