This week, the Brown Lecture Board hosted Mr. George Takei, renowned actor and activist, for a speaking event on campus. Most famously known for his role as Hikaro Sulu in the series Star Trek, Mr. Takei has recently emerged as one of the most prominent advocates for LGBT rights in the country and has garnered a massive following on social media.
The event was hosted in Solomon and began at around 7:00 pm. I arrived a few minutes before they opened the doors, so I was able to watch the slowly filling the lecture hall turn into a buzzing audience before Mr. Takei took the stage. Just a few minutes after the hour, Mr. Takei walked out to a big round of applause, bouncing as he walked up to the podium with a huge grin on his face, brandishing the trademark Vulcan salute.
Mr. Takei’s skills as an orator and an entertainer were clear from the beginning. He moved around, spoke eloquently and clearly, and held the audience at attention through his storytelling. Starting contextually, Mr. Takei began the lecture by saying that he had lived through a harrowing part of American history: the forced internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The son of Japanese-American immigrants, at the age of 5, Mr. Takei was forced to leave his California home and relocate to a camp in Arkansas. Due to his young age, living in the camps became a normal part of life, and he even said he had fond memories of living in Arkansas. Having to take communal showers, line up for meals, and go through the routines of life in an internment camp became standard living practices. However, he would not be in Arkansas for long. Because of his parent’s principles, they refused to admit a former allegiance to the emperor of Japan, and he was forced to move yet again, this time to a much harsher internment camp.
Mr. Takei then transitioned his lecture to life outside of the camp, and what ultimately led him to becoming the prominent figure he is today. Starting life again in skid row, his parents eventually saved enough money and they were able to move to a nicer part of Los Angeles. It was during these years as a teenager where he developed his sense of social duty. According to Mr. Takei, “there is no one more arrogant than an idealistic teenager.” Despite his experiences in the internment camps, Mr. Takei maintained a deep faith in democracy and the American experience, a sentiment that was instilled in him through his father. He became more active in social justice and politics, campaigning for Adelai Stevenson and other areas of reform. One of the biggest points he made was his belief that, “Our democracy is dependent on good people who pursue the ideals of that democracy. In a democracy, you never give up.” This message would frame the rest of his lecture.
Mr. Takei took us on a journey through his professional career, starting at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Acting and his early casting calls, all the way to his role as Sulu on Star Trek. However, despite his involvement in many contemporary issues of social justice, he “Was silent on the most important issue to me” – his sexuality. By the time Mr. Takei realized he was gay, and the implications of that (remember, he was starting his career in the fifties), it would have meant being blacklisted in Hollywood. So he remained silent. He would occasionally go to gay bars, but always with the fear of being found out. Up until the time he came out, he felt very isolated and paranoid. But things in the country began to change. As more and more people started to advocate for LGBT rights, Mr. Takei started to take more action, even though it was from a more removed position. First, he attended marches and participated in AIDS walks, however, he was always a ‘friend’ of the cause, and not someone personally invested in it. Then the more he got involved, the more he began to draw connections between the marginalized Japanese during WWII, and the LGBT community that was being denied basic rights.
In 2005, Mr. Takei publically announced that he was gay, and had been in a committed relationship to another man for the last 18 years. Coming in the wake of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of same sex marriage legislation in California, Mr. Takei said that his blood was boiling, and that he felt the same way as the people protesting on the streets. He could no longer sit idly. Following his announcement, Mr. Takei’s popularity and presence online began to grow, and he is now one of the most prominent advocates for LGBT rights in the country. As a an openly gay man he says he feels more free to do what he wants to do than ever, and his career is in places he never dreamed it could be.
At the end of the lecture, Mr. Takei left us with an important, albeit somewhat overused sentiment: that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do. Women are working as CEOs, but it is still despicable that they are constantly being objectified and are not held equal in many cases. African American men are being gunned down in the streets, and the LGBT community does not share the same privileges as heterosexual people. However, this message seemed to carry much more weight coming from a man who fights daily to uphold the tenets of the American democratic ideals, despite once being told by his own government that he was not a citizen.
Images via Charlie Sturr ’17, via.