Foto: Guillermo Ferla
By Camilla Asra Engelby
When Whoopi Goldberg as a child watched Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, she excitedly exclaimed to her mother: “There’s a black lady on television — and she ain’t no maid!” In many ways, Star Trek as a show has boldly gone where most shows have not gone before by pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on mainstream television, and though the franchise has only added explicit LGBTI+ characters in the last couple years, in actuality there has been some form of diverse representation on the show earlier on. Feeling represented in film and TV can be enormously empowering and helps LGBTI+ viewers feel included. And fortunately, the list of diverse Sci-Fi characters is – like space – ever expanding. This timeline is a tribute to some of the fierce and fabulous characters and narratives explored in the show and films over the years.
Characters Lt. Uhura and Captain Kirk make waves with an interracial kiss. And though this wasn’t an actual first, the positive impact of such an event on a major TV series shown in prime time with a large global fan base cannot be denied. Actor Nichelle Nichols at one point contemplated leaving Star Trek, but changed her mind after a chance encounter with Martin Luther King, JR. Nichols told King of her intention to leave the show to which he replied, “You cannot do that … Don’t you understand what this man [Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek] has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.”
In a turning-the-tables-episode we meet Soren, a member of the androgynous J’naii species. Among the J’naii it’s considered a criminal perversion to identify as either male or female, but Soren admits to First Officer William T. Riker to secretly identifying as female since childhood. Soren and Riker share a mutual attraction, but Soren is found out and is subjected to a conversion therapy-like treatment – though not before making a plea for acceptance of all those with gender identities, saying no one has been hurt or affected, that they are all like everyone else, and just want to be accepted for who they are.
Trekkers witnessed the first same-sex kiss in outer space when Lt. Commander Jadzia Dax and her former wife Lenara Kahn – both of the Trill species – shared an intimate moment on Deep Space 9. A small percentage of the Trill population harbour a sentient life form known as a symbiont inside their bodies. When a host body dies, the symbiont is then transferred to a new Trill. Jadzia identifies as female, but the Trill as a race seem to have no issues with switching gender identity, or similarly, with same-sex relationships. In this case a previous host of the Kahn-symbiont had been married to a previous host of the Dax-symbiont. Joined Trills have access to the memories and skills of previous hosts, thus seeing each other again triggered romantic feelings from their past.
In the Kelvin universe – an alternate timeline – it is revealed that Lt. Hikaru Sulu is in a same-sex relationship. This was by many fans seen as a nod to the actor George Takei (who originated the character in the original Star Trek series from 1966), who came out as gay in 2005 and since then has become a prominent LGBTI+ rights activist.
In 2017 on Star Trek Discovery, we are introduced to gay couple Commander Paul Stamets and Dr Hugh Culber. The characters are portrayed by actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, both part of the LGBTI+ community themselves.
In 2019 Commander Jett Reno – brilliantly played by comedian Tig Notaro – joined the Discovery crew. Reno is widowed but continues to wear her wedding ring after the death of her wife.
In 2020 we finally saw both a non-binary character – Adira Tal – and a trans character – Gray Tal – join the Trek franchise. Both characters are portrayed by actors who share their characters’ gender identities. In a scene in season three, where Stamets, who at this point is unaware of Adira’s pronouns, refers to them as “her.” Adira then corrects him, saying, “‘They,’ not ‘she.’ I’ve never felt like a ‘she’ or a ‘her.” I would prefer ‘they’ or ‘them’ from now on.” After which Stamets simply smiles and says “okay”. Which is a great example for anyone who might be uncertain on how to deal with being corrected after using the incorrect pronouns.
Notable mentions from other Sci-Fi shows:
Tony Sawicki, Cosima Niehaus, and Delphine Cormier, Orphan Black
Larry Trainer, Maura Lee Karupt, and Danny the Street, Doom Patrol
Mr. Terrific, Dreamer, Batwoman, Captain Cold, and White Canary, DC’s Arrowverse
Captain Jack Harkness, Bill Potts, Madame Vastra, and Jenny Flint, Doctor Who