Prime Timers: A New Age for Activism
BY Advocate.com Editors
August 27 2013 7:00 AM ET
George Takei, 76, Actor
George Hosato Takei may be best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, but since publicly coming out of the closet in 2005, the former helmsman of the starship Enterprise has helped plot a course for LGBT equality around the world. Shortly after revealing that he's gay, Takei immediately began aggressively battling LGBT stereotypes and using his celebrity as an iconic science fiction actor to raise awareness of the struggles facing our community. "[LGBT people] are masculine, we are feminine, we are caring, we are abusive,” he said in a 2005 interview with Howard Stern. “We are just like straight people, in terms of our outward appearance and our behavior. The only difference is that we are oriented to people of our own gender."
In 2006, Takei took his mission on the road and embarked on a nationwide tour, “Equality Trek,” where he shared stories from his life as a gay Japanese-American, his long-term relationship with Brad Altman (whom he married in 2008), and his experience as a part of the Star Trek legacy.
Since then, Takei has been a tireless advocate for the LGBT community, speaking out on political issues, marching in Pride parades, and aligning with several organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, where he serves as a spokesman. In recent years he has also become a social media juggernaut with millions of followers who hungrily devour his unique mix of social commentary, comedic videos, and wacky internet memes. The popularity of his online presence prompted the 76-year-old actor-activist to write a book about his experience in the digital frontier, Oh Myyy! (There Goes The Internet), where he spills his secrets on everything from making memes memorable to taming trolls.
Gene Robinson, 66, Clergyman
Gene Robinson made history in 2003 when he became the first openly gay man in the Episcopal Church to be elected a bishop. Controversy and death threats followed, with conservatives claiming Robinson’s election would only cause a divide between the Episcopal Church and its worldwide body, the Anglican Communion. Still, Robinson did not back away from his calling and bravely continued in his service of the church, taking the appropriate precautions, which included wearing a bulletproof vest at events and increased security at his consecration.
Since then Robinson has become a heroic figure and household name among LGBT people, who felt his election signaled the evolution of the church’s attitude toward them. Robinson’s work and visibility as gay bishop led Out magazine to include him in the publication’s 2009 Power 50 list.
Though he retired in January of this year, Robinson continues to use his voice to support LGBT equality and continues to work on bridging the gap between religious bodies and the LGBT community.
Alice Walker, 69, Writer and Activist
Writer Alice Walker is perhaps best known for The Color Purple, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel whose main character, a young black woman living in the early-20th-century American South, grapples with racism as well as violence within her own community. The story hits close to home for Walker, who, as the youngest daughter of a poor African-American sharecropper in Georgia, witnessed the myriad injustices of the Jim Crow era and heard stories of the horrors of slavery, passed down in her family through oral tradition. Thanks to Walker’s intelligence and to the perseverance of her mother, she was able to receive a full-tuition scholarship to Spelman College. Later, she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, bringing her opportunities to record the essence of these inherited stories into print, including an editorial position at Ms. magazine.
As reflected in her writing, Walker is a lifelong activist. From her participation in the U.S. civil rights movement to her protests of the Gaza war to her recent advocacy for Chelsea Manning, the gay soldier who gave classified information to WikiLeaks, the feminist and poet has established herself as one of the country’s most prominent voices for minority groups. Now 69, the bisexual author continues to be prolific in her written work as well, having recently published a collection of essays, The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way, and a book of poetry, The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness Into Flowers. A documentary on her life, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, by lesbian filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, was released this year. Featuring interviews with Walker as well as friend and contemporaries — including Angela Davis, Danny Glover, Sapphire, and Steven Spielberg, who adapted The Color Purple into an Academy Award-nominated film — Beauty in Truth chronicles Walker’s life, the lovers and partners who influenced her, and her rise to become one of America's most revered and controversial literary lionesses.