In 1966, George
Takei, then 29, made TV history as an Asian-American
actor in a leading role on a TV series, playing Lt. Hikaru
Sulu on Star Trek. In October, Takei made
history again by telling Los Angeles LGBT magazine
Frontiers that he’s gay, in an interview
about the East West Players stage production of
Equus, in which he stars as psychiatrist Martin
Dysart (through December 4).
You and your partner of 18 years, Brad Altman, have been
out locally for years. Why did you come out now in
I’ve been out for a long time—all
my friends know; my partner, Brad, comes to
fund-raising dinners with me. We’re recognized
together [as donors to Japanese-American causes]. So
we’ve been out in that respect in the
Japanese-American community as well. I think it was more the
political climate [that convinced me to speak to be out in
the press at this time]. Society has been changing.
Today gay teens are now feature stories in Time
magazine—that generation thinks being gay is just
a part of society. The world has changed dramatically. In my
teenage days that was the most inconceivable thing.
Because of the changes that are happening I see the
potential for significant change—[the potential] that
I might be able to contribute to the gay community as I have
to the Japanese-American community and to the civil
rights movement. Because of the changing public and
political climate I think we need to get the numbers,
and I can play a part in trying to bring some rationality to
Even though you’re a native-born American, from
age 4 to 8 you were imprisoned with your family in
a Japanese-American internment camp. Do you have
memories of your life before that happened?
I'm third generation [American]; my grandparents
came here [from Japan]. I’m of Japanese
heritage, but I’m an American. My parents remarked
how unusual my sense memory is. I remember when I was
1-1/2 [years old] and I remember where windows where
[in the family’s home at that time] and what
the front yard was like, and then we moved to another house
with a chicken coop in the back, on a hillside. And I
remember how scary it was that day when U.S. soldiers
with bayonetted guns came to order us out of our home.
My parents lost everything: their business, their furniture.
My father sold the car they had for $5 and got a
dollar for my mother’s brand-new refrigerator.
There were some families that were so upset that there
were people outside waiting for them to leave that they took
their furniture out to their backyard and burned them.
I put myself in [my parents’] shoes and what it
must have been like to lose everything. We
weren’t criminals; we just happened to look like the
people who bombed Pearl Harbor. We were
Japanese-Americans, so we were [considered] a threat.
How has that experience shaped you as a gay man?
In the same way that Japanese-Americans were not
criminals, the real mistake of our society is not
being able to recognize the fundamental ideals that
this country stands for. The antigay movement is really
being pushed by the antigay extremists of the right
[not by average Americans]. For them to try to impose
their narrow, straitjacked view on the rest of
society—I’m going to take a stand against that
in the same way that [many Americans opposed] the
internment. We say that diversity is a strength of
this country and talk about equal time in the presentation
of ideas. There’s got to be a recognition of
people with different orientations.
In Equus the psychiatrist, Dysart, learns a lot
about himself through interacting with a disturbed
young patient—Alan Strang, who has blinded
six horses for reasons no one understands. Is there a
message there for gay audiences?
I think there are many levels of Equus
for gay men. It’s got six shirtless, muscular
guys playing the horses! And for lesbians there is a
lovely young actress who becomes nude. Both [she and the
young actor who plays Alan, with whom she has a nude
scene] are beautiful human beings. [Takei gets more
serious] Both [Alan and the doctor]—Dysart in
particular—are seekers. [Dysart is] of the Anglican
Church, but it’s inadequate. He’s
looking for a larger truth. He’s married because it
was time to get married; it’s a sterile
marriage. He’s an outstanding professional in
his field, but he talks about his extreme timidity. He
doesn’t have the guts to venture forth [from his
position at a public hospital in the provinces].
He’s very constrained and very much involved
with Greek mythology and culture, and what fascinates him is
how they created their own civilization out of their
seeking—but it’s a dead society. And
here he is confronted with the passion of this boy who is
creating [his own mythology], finding his own worship,
combined with his explosive sexuality. The irony is,
here is this guy who is brilliant but empty, and in
fact he finds something he admires, even envies in this
young boy. They’re both really outsiders. And I think
that may be an additional connection with the gay
The play is set in the England of the recent past, but
the cast in this production is all Asian-American.
How was the decision made to keep the setting in England?
I play [Dysart] as an Englishman, and I take on a
British accent. Part of the agreement the East-West
Players got from Peter Shaffer’s agent [in
return for permission to produce the play] is that we
won’t change a word. And it works. I think it
works. It’s really the content and the
characters that play. The wonderful thing about the theater
is that the audience will make that leap of faith.
Have you heard from Star Trek fans since coming out?
I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails. A lot
from Star Trek fans, as a matter of fact. All
very supportive. Some of the e-mails that I’ve
gotten have been from gay Star Trek fans. They are
delighted that Star Fleet now includes them. I think
[Star Trek fandom is] going to be a
constant in my life. I’m very proud of my association
with Star Trek. I’ve done conventions
all over Europe and Brazil and Japan. I was hoping
there would be some conventions in Spain, since I
speak Spanish! You have to understand, for me Star
Trek was a breakthrough—for me to play part
of the leadership of that starship without any ethnic
baggage or accents. I’m the only one of that crew who
eventually got a captaincy [in the course of the feature
films that continued the story]. I’m prepared
for my tombstone to read, “Here likes Hikaru
Sulu,” and then, in smaller letters, “a.k.a.