When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek in the mid-’60s, he made sure it painted a picture of an inclusive future. And for all its flaws, it really showed a world where humanity got past its prejudices to unite in a new utopia. But one thing it didn’t have was any LGBTQ representation. Although Roddenberry wanted to, according to Sulu actor George Takei. But the climate made it impossible back then, in a pre-Stonewall era.
But why not in subsequent iterations of the franchise, during its peak of popularity in the ’90s? Especially with the most coded queer couple in the franchise’s history, Deep Space Nine’s Doctor Julian Bashir and Cardassian tailor, Garak? The story of Bashir and Garak, and truly the struggle to have any LGBTQ representation in Star Trek, is the subject of Matt Baume’s latest video essay. And it’s quite a tangled story, which you can watch right here:
In short, it seems Star Trek franchise steward Rick Berman, who ran four different Trek series over eighteen years, was largely responsible for all hints of gayness and gender non-conformity getting banned. Would the franchise have received angry pushback from certain segments of the audience if they had? Without a doubt. But so did the original series for having an interracial kiss, and a multi-ethnic crew. And they did it anyway.
Unlike the original series, The Next Generation was a ratings winner. And so were its two subsequent shows, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. They could have led the pack in having LGBTQ representation on TV. Instead, other shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it first. It wasn’t until 2017’s Star Trek: Discovery that there was LGBTQ representation with any series regulars. By this point, it was embarrassingly overdue. Still welcome, but overdue.
CBS / Viacom
In fairness, Rick Berman did a lot of good for the franchise in other ways. Like allowing for interpersonal conflicts among the crew. This is something Gene Roddenberry hated, as his utopian future was free of people who squabble. It saved the TNG era from being as stale and drama-free as season one. But if only he’d been brave enough to lead the way in LGBTQ representation back in the day. Then maybe Bashir and Garak could have been together. And Trek would have been a leader in sci-fi TV, and not a follower.