In an interview with PBS NewsHour, actor and activist George Takei said he asked Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry why the show never featured a gay character.
Roddenberry, who died in 1991, told Takei, “You’re right, I’d like to do that, but I’m walking a tightrope.”
According to Takei, Roddenberry pointed to the public response to the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” featuring an interracial kiss between William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk, and Nichelle Nichols, who played then-Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. “The interracial kiss,” Takei quoted Roddenberry as saying, “was very controversial. … And so I’ve got to keep the show on to tell the stories that I’m telling, which aren’t being dramatized metaphorically on any other show. I’ve got to keep the show on. And [a gay character], as you say, may be a bridge too far.”
Takei has given similar answers regarding Roddenberry in past interviews: that the risk of pushing the envelope, especially in the wake of “Plato’s Stepchildren,” was too great. Last year, however, Jesse Holland reported for the Associated Press that the episode featuring the kiss between Shatner and Nichols “passed by the general public and the TV industry at that time almost without comment.”
“Despite concerns from executives, ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’ aired without blowback,” Holland wrote.
The 2016 movie Star Trek Beyond revealed that Takei’s character Hikaru Sulu, played in the film by John Cho, had a male partner. Takei originally objected to the move, calling it “unfortunate” and “a twisting of Gene’s creation.” After the film’s release, Takei said the portrayal was “tentative.”
Cho told Vulture that the film had originally included a gay kiss, but that the scene had been cut.
Roddenberry, Takei told Digital Spy, "would've created a gay character who has his own history in this kind of society and explored what kind of issues he would have to deal with, and how he would've expressed himself, and how society would've dealt with him. All those potentials are there — and yet..."
Star Trek would not have an LGBTQ character for decades after its original airing. In 1995, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured a kiss between two women: Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax and Susanna Thompson as Lenara Kahn. Series actor Andrew Robinson also told Amazon in 2012 that he interpreted his character Garak as having “inclusive” sexuality. In 2017, gay actor Anthony Rapp began playing a gay character, Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamets, on Star Trek: Discovery, which is still being aired on CBS All Access. The series’ other LGBTQ characters include Stamets’s husband, Dr. Hugh Culber, played by Wilson Cruz, and Jett Reno, played by Tig Notaro.