The Equality Forum recently announced its LGBTQ icons for this October, which is officially LGBT History Month. Among the icons chosen is George Takei, previously best known for his role on Star Trek, and now known for his gay rights activism and massive social media presence. So how exactly did a Trekkie go from helming the USS Enterprise to fighting homophobia?
A native of Los Angeles, Takei began his Hollywood career by doing voice overs, but his big break came when he was cast as Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek television series, and then went on to play him in six subsequent Star Trek movies. With the success of Star Trek came fame for Takei, but the actor kept his sexual orientation quiet from the public for fear of not getting cast in roles.
Takei came out as gay in 2005, in response to then-California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger's veto of California's same-sex marriage bill. Takei revealed that he had been with his now-husband, Brad Altman, for many years, and that friends in Hollywood had known he was gay but stayed silent for fear of jeopardizing Takei's career. But with the advent of the gay rights movement, Takei felt that by 2005 it was time to come out and begin fighting for gay rights himself, regardless the potential loss of roles or fans.
Since then, he hasn't slowed down. In 2006, he went on an "Equality Trek" speaking tour, where he shared his story of life as a gay Japanese-American. He next appeared on a float at the 2007 San Francisco Pride Parade, and became a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's Coming Out Project. In 2008, Takei and Altman married in California.
Takei has also fought against homophobic laws, such as the so-called Don't Say Gay bill in Tennessee. Proposed in 2011, the law would have prohibited elementary and middle school teachers from referencing the existence of homosexuality. Takei created a PSA in which he jokes that people can substitute the word gay with his name instead. (The bill did not pass.)
Takei's 4.4 million follower-strong Facebook page is one of the most viral on the social media site, now reaching about 300,000 people a day. Takei typically uses his page to promote gay rights, but virally fuses comedic memes with socio-political messages:
Most recently, Takei has spoken out repeatedly against Russia's harsh law against gay propaganda.
Passed in June, the new law makes disseminating propaganda about "non-traditional sexual relations" a crime, leaving it open as to what exactly gay "propaganda" entails. Takei has said that holding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will only lend legitimacy to Russia's anti-gay law.
Takei's joined the petition that argues for moving the Olympics from Russia to Canada, which has a history of supporting LGBTQ rights (Vancouver hosted a pride house during the last Winter Olympics). While only time will tell if Takei lending his voice to the conversation on Russia will have an effect on the Olympic committee's decisions, it's heartening to see a celebrity so fearlessly supporting what he believes in. Takei serves as a reminder of the many closeted celebrities of the past who felt that Hollywood was too hostile an environment to come out in, but also of the courage of gay rights activists who decided that staying silent about whom the loved was not an option and that they had the courage to speak up for themselves.