Their participation holds special significance. Since its inception, Star Trek has shown a post-racial universe that embraced diversity. Cruz recalled watching Next Generation in his youth and dreaming of being part of an “ideal” that “we were all working towards.”
In life, “I wanted two things. I wanted to be in a Broadway musical. And I wanted to be on Star Trek. And to have that experience with the same person is pretty amazing,” Cruz said.
Rapp, “a geeky geek for my whole life,” always loved Star Trek — though he stops short of the “Trekkie” label. But for all its inclusiveness, the show’s long-running absence of out LGBT characters has been a “blind spot,” said Rapp. Cruz agreed.
“Imagine watching a television show for decades at a time that’s supposed to represent the ideal future of what our world will look like centuries from now, and not being included in that. And what does that subliminally say to young people and a whole community? Does that say we’ve become extinct? It sends your imagination into dark places,” Cruz said.
This makes their role in breaking the gay glass ceiling even more important. Cruz, a proud gay man of Puerto Rican ancestry, becomes tearful recalling how a friend reminded him: There are gay and Latino kids that will be him for Halloween, who will go on to be doctors and have “a future that’s bigger than they ever could have imagined.”
Cruz acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done in expanding the universe of acceptance.
“When we talk about LGBT characters on TV we’re talking about the entire rainbow, and that includes trans people, and that includes non-binary people, people of color, women, differently-abled people,” said Cruz. “There is so much opportunity for storytelling there, and I hope that we continue to see more of that.”
Star Trek: Discovery is not the first imagining of this universe to include queer characters. The film Star Trek: Beyond, directed by Justin Lin and produced by J.J. Abrams, reintroduced the character of Hikaru Sulu as gay in a subtle scene in which he embraces his partner. The gay actor who originated Sulu, George Takei, criticized the creative decision regarding Sulu’s sexual orientation, saying it went against the wishes of creator Gene Roddenberry as well as his own interpretation of the character.
Reflecting on the controversy, Rapp called Sulu’s scene a “nice nod” to Star Trek’s universe of queer fans who have long hungered to see themselves reflected. But he also understood Takei’s point of view. Cruz added, “Sometimes we make progress in leaps. And sometimes we make them in small steps. And this was progress in a small step.”
Takei has put his own stamp of approval on Cruz and Rapp’s characters. When they made their debut as a couple, Takei tweeted his thanks to Discovery for “going where no Star Trek show has gone before.” For both actors, acknowledgement from Takei “means a lot.”
“You want to talk about a person who has used their art and their voice as change for our community? George Takei is on the forefront of that,” Cruz said of the 80-year-old actor, Japanese-American internment camp survivor, and social media influencer. (Since the time of this interview, Takei has faced an accusation of alleged sexual misconduct in the #MeToo movement. Takei denies the accusation.)
Both Rapp and Cruz have been voices for change on social media. Cruz shot back at those who say that queer people have no place in Star Trek in a Facebook post. “I’m not here for your comfort,” he wrote, in an impassioned call for the importance of visibility. “LGBTQ people aren’t going to just disappear because you put your head in the sand. We share the planet with you. We have always been here and we will always be here.”