Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Characters on Star Trek - a 12-year saga of deceit, lies, excuses and broken promises

Star Trek: The Next Generation · Star Trek: Deep Space Nine · Star Trek: Voyager · Enterprise · Star Trek: First Contact · Star Trek: Insurrection · Articles · GLB Characters in Star Trek Novels · Message Board · Reader Commentary

last update: October 19, 2003

Introduction

This site is devoted to the thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual Star Trek fans out there who are still waiting to be included in Gene Roddenberry's great vision of the human future.

The original Star Trek of the 1960s is still remembered for its groundbreaking first interracial kiss. But 30 years later, Star Trek has not evolved one step further. With the fights against racism and gender inequality essentially won, the civil rights of gays and lesbians have become the last great civil rights frontier. Television has adjusted to the changing social attitudes towards homosexuality, first by largely eliminating the most offensive of gay stereotypes, secondly and finally by including main characters who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Soap had a gay character in 1977, Dynasty in 1981 and Melrose Place in 1992. Then came Ellen in May 1997 which opened the door for gay lead characters. In rapid succession, this lead to the first sitcom without main characters who are attracted to women (Will & Grace) and the first prime-time romantic same-sex kiss between two teenagers (Dawson's Creek).

And where is Star Trek? Mired in the 1960s, producing episodes against racism (DS9's Far Beyond the Stars), fancying itself progressive for having a female Captain and upholding an unwritten and undeclared embargo against any characters whose romantic interest is not exclusively in the opposite sex. The very TV show that prides itself on its inclusiveness continues not to show any gay, lesbian or bisexual characters and so continues to send a singularly offensive message. It is not so much the absence of non-heterosexual characters in itself that is offensive, it is the absence of such characters combined with the arrogant pretension of presenting an advanced, if not ideal social structure. The message is: you are not supposed to exist. In a perfect society, you would not exist.

Star Trek's failure to reflect the full diversity of human (never mind alien) sexual orientation is of course only one symptom of a larger problem that has plagued this franchise (indeed much of mainstream science-fiction) from its inception. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines "Science Fiction" as a

form of fiction that developed in the 20th century and deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals.

Mainstream science fiction all too often has not lived up to this definition, except in the most shallow sense. It has not appreciated the historical fact that changes in technology affect changes in cultural and social conditions. To name just one example, the "traditional" nuclear family (father, mother, 2+ children) that conservatives erroneously believe has existed since the dawn of human civilization is the product of the industrial revolution of the 19th century. The notion of marriage as a union based on love (instead of economic ties and parental arrangement) is the liberal radicalism of the 19th century. At its best, science fiction extrapolates this co-evolution of science and society into the future, both in the utopian and the dystopian variety. At its worst, sci-fi just transplants contemporary people and their values into a high-tech future. A future in which, to borrow some ideas from the 1950s, "mother" is using an atomic energy - powered robot to clean the house, and "father" is taking a rocket-car to work.

When it comes to gender roles, gender identity and sexual orientation, Star Trek has had a deplorable tendency to fall into the latter category. The original show's core characters are three men. Second-tier cast consists of four men and one sole woman, Uhura, whose job is that of a glorified secretary, to handle the 23rd century equivalent of phone calls. There are two semiregular female characters in subordinate positions: nurse Christine Chapel and yeoman Janice Rand (yeoman is a Navy term for a petty officer performing chiefly clerical duties).

The Next Generation had a female chief of security, but she died in mid-season one, leaving only two female characters who both work in caring professions. This bias towards traditional gender roles and identities is somewhat mitigated by guest appearances of strong women as captains, admirals and scientists, but also frequently reinforced by gender stereotyping. In "Coming of Age", Wesley takes part in a Starfleet entrance exam consisting of scientific questions where he and the other male contestant score exceedingly high, while a human girl performs poorly, and feels a need to confess how hard she finds these kinds of questions. "In Theory" shows Data attempting an amorous relationship with a female crewmember whose irrationality and emotional instability plays into traditional clichés about women, and "The Perfect Mate" and "Man of the People" show women (but not men) as objects to be used by others.

Attempts at breaking down the gender barriers are timid, half-hearted and few and far between. Q's sexual polymorphism ("If I had known sooner, I would have appeared as a female") is good enough for jokes, but never seriously explored. The matriarchy of "Angel One" remains an anomaly in a largely patriarchal galaxy. When Dr. Crusher's alien lover in "The Host" changes gender, Crusher freaks out and ends the relationship abruptly. The supposedly sexless society of the J'Nai is portrayed by female actors only, in a highly negative light, and with such ambiguity that straight viewers didn't even realize that the episode was supposed to be an argument against homophobia. In "Liaisons", an alien male disguised as a female engages in a love affair with Picard, but no trace of emotion remains when he reassumes his male form. Alien societies with more than two genders (such as the insect Jarada, introduced in "The Big Good-Bye") are never explored in detail. By and large, alien societies share the sexual norms of late 20th century America, planet Earth. In particular, same-sex affection, relationships or marriages are either nonexistent or completely invisible, leading homophobic viewers to theorize that homosexuality has been "cured".

Ancient History: The TNG years

Things could have been different. In 1987, veteran Trek writer David Gerrold (author of the original episode The Trouble with Tribbles) accompanied Gene Roddenberry to a Star Trek convention in Boston where Roddenberry was asked by Franklin Hummel, then-director of the Gaylaxians, if there would be a gay character on The Next Generation. Roddenberry answered in the affirmative and subsequently brought the idea up in a staff meeting, reportedly responding to some initial resistance with the statement "Times have changed and we have got to be aware of it". Since TNG was a syndicated show, and Paramount had given Roddenberry the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do, the road seemed clear. Read More..

Star Trek: Voyager and the Voyager Visibility Project

The issue of gay characters on Star Trek used to be excellently covered by gaytrek.com, the website of the Voyager Visibility Project/USS Harvey Milk Gay & Lesbian Star Trek Association, a pressure group that was founded in 1995 to get the Star Trek producers to include a positive, ongoing gay character on Voyager. Read More..

Star Trek - First Contact

In 1996, there was some hope that there might be an openly gay character on Star Trek: First Contact. Those hopes were fueled by Patrick Stewart's endorsement of the idea in the 1995 Advocate Interview and by rumors on the internet. It was said that Lt. Hawk, the extremely good-looking new bridge officer would be gay, and an anonymous source came forward with the following account:

"I wouldn't call the "gay" rumor TOO unproven - I am a gay man and I live in Idaho. Several of the Star Trek production personnel - who ARE openly gay - (an effects supervisor for one) AND actor Neal McDonough were spotted BY ME at a gay bar in my state. I recognized them at that point, and spoke to them - and they were QUITE adamant about the character's sexuality (however, the actor seemed to be merely open-minded and NOT homosexual). They were afraid that the references to his sexuality in the movie that are OVERT may not make it into the final cut of the film, however "subtle" throwaway references will not be cut - and only people with "gaydar" will probably be able to tell."

I never noticed any such reference, even though I saw the movie twice - but maybe my gaydar is not sufficiently attuned to the Star Trek subtlety of gay characters who are gay only in an alternate universe. In reality, of course, Lt. Hawk is a good, clean, heterosexual lad, and those filthy 'gay' rumors were quickly laid to rest by Mr. Family Values himself - Rick Berman. The following is from the August, 23, 1996 GLAADAlert:

Gay trekkies beamed when the August 8 London Daily Mail printed that in First Contact, the next Star Trek film, Lieutenant Hawk would be openly gay. The Daily Mail also credited the inclusion to the over 5,000 people signing GLAAD's Voyager Visibility Project petition to Star Trek producers to honor creator Gene Roddenberry's wishes for regular lesbian and gay characters. Unfortunately, according to Producer Rick Berman, Lieutenant Hawk is heterosexual and there are actually no gay characters in the film, or, for that matter, on Voyager or Deep Space 9, the Star Trek shows scheduled to begin new seasons this fall.

Berman's statement speaks volumes about his social views. Nothing is shown in First Contact that sheds any light on Hawk's sexual orientation one way or another. So how can he say that Hawk is heterosexual? The only reasonable answer is that for Berman, Hawk is heterosexual by default. Berman's reaction betrays a basic animosity towards gay people that goes beyond concern for the commercial viability of his product.

Interestingly, Lt. Hawk has now belatedly but "officially" been established as gay after all, in Andy Mangels' and Michael Martin's novel Section 31: Rogue. I refer the reader to the books section of this site for details.

Star Trek - Insurrection

Since Stewart's endorsement of the idea of gay characters in the TNG movies had evidently fallen on deaf ears, fan hopes for a gay character in Insurrection were naturally zero. And of course, no such character appeared. Instead, gay Star Trek fans - if there were any left - were treated to a contrived love story between Picard and a non-recuring female character, and to a bubble bath scene featuring Troi and Riker. No one was heard complaining that "Star Trek is not about Sex", except some conservative reviewers. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network did not like the "implied nudity" of the scene and Movie Guide found that the scene "mitigates the moral thrust" of the story.

There is no section on the final TNG feature film, Nemesis, because there is nothing to be said.

Deep Space Nine

In DS9's Rejoined (aired 10/28/95), there was a kiss between two women, but it was not a lesbian kiss. That episode was an anomaly in an otherwise homophobic show, for the reasons that follow. Read More

Enterprise

As the fifth Star Trek show was being launched, a familiar pattern once again emerged. Rumors circulated that now, finally, there would be a gay character. Specifically, it was said that Lieutenant Malcolm Reed would be gay. For an August 2001 story on Enterprise, TV Guide writer Michael Logan confronted Rick Berman with that rumour, only to get the usual lukewarm denial, the kind that slams the door shut except for a tiny crack to keep the gay fans hoping. Reportedly, Berman said

"That's totally untrue. Well I shouldn't say totally untrue. It has not been discussed. One of these characters may turn out to be gay. We've just decided not to make an issue of it for the time being."

And here we go again. 15 years of discussion have apparently left Mr. Berman completely and utterly clueless as to what this whole thing is about. To repeat it for the zillionth time, it is not about making homosexuality an issue. It is about having a gay character who's sexual orientation is not an issue. Maybe this zen-ish idea of making a point by not making a point is just too much for Berman to comprehend, or maybe he's just a professional cynic who counts on the short attention span of the public and the mass media to get away with this kind of insult to our intelligence. The bottom line is, as far as Berman is concerned, we're apparently still on square one.

Scott Bakula gets the point perfectly. He told Metrosource, a New York gay magazine in early 2002

"I'm not really familiar with the history of this particular issue with regards to Star Trek; in fact, the first I ever heard of it was at our first junket when somebody asked if there was going to be an opportunity for a gay or lesbian character on the show. I was surprised at the question, because I had just assumed that over the course of the years that it had been addressed. I was surprised it was even an issue. Since then I haven't sat down with Rick and Brannon to discuss it. It does seem awkward [that nothing has ever happened].

I haven't heard anything coming down the pipeline, but I would be in favor of it. I would hope it would be handled in a great way. It would be wonderful, in my opinion, if it was not such a huge issue, but was just there.

Read More

Quotes

"In the fifth season [of Star Trek: The Next Generation] viewers will see more of shipboard life [including] gay crew members in day-to-day circumstances."

Gene Roddenberry, to The Advocate, 1991

"My attitude toward homosexuality has changed. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong. I was never someone who hunted down "fags" as we used to call them on the street. I would, sometimes, say something anti-homosexual off the top of my head because it was thought, in those days, to be funny. I never really deeply believed those comments, but I gave the impression of being thoughtless in these areas. I have, over many years, changed my attitude about gay men and women."

Gene Roddenberry, to The Humanist, 1991 (full interview)

"I'm sorry I never had a homosexual relationship, because I know there must be many joys and pleasures and degrees of closeness in those relationships."

Gene Roddenberry, in Gene Roddenberry; The Last Conversation (by Yvonne Fern, 1994)

"It is entirely fitting that gays and lesbians 'will appear unobtrusively aboard the Enterprise - neither objects of pity nor melodramatic attention.'"

Leonard Nimoy, letter to the Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1991

"It would be very appropriate if the upcoming Next Generation movies made it their business to have gay characters."

Patrick Stewart, to The Advocate, August 22, 1995

"I've approached [Berman] many, many times over the years about getting a gay character on the show--one whom we could really love, not just a guest star. Y'know, we had blacks, Asians, we even had a handicapped character-- and so I thought, this is now beginning to look a bit absurd. And he said, 'In due time.' And so, I'm suspecting that on Enterprise they will do something to this effect. I couldn't get it done on mine. And I am sorry for that."

Kate Mulgrew, to Out in America, August 2002

"I was surprised at the question, because I had just assumed that over the course of the years that it had been addressed. I was surprised it was even an issue. (..) I haven't heard anything coming down the pipeline, but I would be in favor of it. I would hope it would be handled in a great way. It would be wonderful, in my opinion, if it was not such a huge issue, but was just there."

Scott Bakula, to Metrosource, January 2002

Articles

Braga, Berman Still Don't Get It (April 2003)
Marina Sirtis gives the party line (2003)
`Trek's' AIDS episode not so bold (Boston Herald, 2003)
AIDS allegory raises awareness on 'Enterprise' (Baltimore Sun, 2003)
'Enterprise' to explore gay story lines (USA Today, 2002)
Kate Mulgrew Interview (Out in America, 2002)
Beam Us Back, Scotty! (The Nation, 2002)
Interview with Scott Bakula (Metrosource, 2002)
Supporting Comments from Voyager Actors (1998-2002)
Candid Comments from Ronald D. Moore (1997-2000)
GLAAD Media Alert (November 6, 1995)
Patrick Stewart in The Advocate (August 1995 Interview)
Out of the closet, into the universe (The Independent, April 1995)
GLAAD SF Media News (October 22, 1993)
Blood and Fire - The Past is Prologue (Acrobat Format, DWB 107, November 1992)
Tackling Gay Rights (Cinefantastique, October 1992)
'Star Trek' focuses on sexuality (USA Today, March 1992)
'Star Trek Is on Another Bold Journey (LA Times op-ed, 10/30/91) and letter by Leonard Nimoy, 11/6/91)
Star Trek: The Next Genderation - Queer Characters Join the Enterprise Crew (The Advocate, 8/27/91)
Gays aboard Enterprise trekking into the future (September 1991)
Where no man has gone before (Maclean's, 7/22/91)
GLAAD Press Release (April 1991)
IDIC: Sexual Diversity in Star Trek

VVP/USS Harvey Milk Site (partial mirror) :

VVP Final Message (November 1998)
VVP Opening Announcement (July 1, 1995)
Roddenberry Grandson Endorses VVP (April 22 1996)
Star Trek's Sexual Smoke and Mirrors (November 27, 1996)
Will Seven Be A Lesbian? (September 4, 1997)
hate/wacko mail this site has received

Poll

Gay & Lesbian Star Trek
Do you think Star Trek has lost credibility because it does not portray positive gay, lesbian or bisexual characters?

Yes, and that is at least one of the reasons I stopped watching, or never watched.
Yes, but I still keep watching.
I don't care.
No, because you can't include every possible group in a TV show.
No, because homosexuality will no longer exist in the 24th century.
I do not think that Star Trek had any credibility in the first place.


Current Results

If you want to make your opinion heard in a more individualized way, please use the Message Board!

Brief Time Line

1987 Roddenberry tells fans that the issue of gay and lesbian characters would be "addressed".

1988 Gerrold's "Blood and Fire" script killed by studio bigotry.

1990 Whoopi Goldberg refuses to deliver homophobic line in "The Offspring", attempt to show background same-sex couple is once again thwarted by studio bigotry.

1991 Gates McFadden tries to change homophobic ending of "The Host", is overruled by superiors.

    Gaylaxians start letter writing campaign, Roddenberry announces gay characters on TNG's fifth season, dies soon thereafter.

1992 TNG's fifth season closes without having introduced gay characters of any kind; producers feel that token episode "The Outcast" has disposed of the "issue" once and for all.

1994 TNG ends without ever having shown lesbian, gay or bisexual characters.

1995 Voyager Visibility Project/USS Harvey Milk Gay & Lesbian Star Trek Association begins campaign for a gay/lesbian character on Voyager.

    Patrick Stewart announces that he would like to see gay characters in the TNG movies.

    Another fig leaf: DS9 features kiss between two heterosexual women, but still no gay characters.

1996 Roddenberry grandson Richard Compton Jr. endorses VVP petition.

    Hopes of gay character in "First Contact" quenched by Berman statement. Berman clarifies that Trek franchise is gay-free.

1997 Voyager Exec. Producer Jeri Taylor proposes to make Seven of Nine lesbian, is overruled by unnamed superiors.

    Gay/lesbian minor characters start appearing in Trek comic books and novels.

1998 VVP gives up, recommends boycott of Paramount products.

    "Insurrection" premiere, once again no gay characters.

1999 DS9 features bisexual villains in mirror universe episode

2001 "Section 31: Rogue" features gay couple on board Enterprise

    Fifth Series Enterprise starts without gay, lesbian or bisexual characters of any kind. Rumors that Lt. Reed would turn out to be gay.

2002 Dominic Keating reveals that the idea had been discussed and rejected.

2003 AIDS allegory episode "Stigma" airs, making hypocritical case against bigotry while mere mention of same-sex relationships and couples remains taboo.

A more elaborate timeline can be found here.

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This site was established on September 9, 1996.