GEORGE TAKEI: Trailblazing Actor & LGBTQ+ Rights Advocate

George Takei when he received his BAchelor of Arts in theater arts from UCLA in 1960. Photo
George Takei when he received his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts from UCLA in 1960. Photo

“Shame is a cruel thing. It should rest on the perpetrators but they don’t carry it the way the victims do.”

TRQ: George Takei Born April 20, 1937

Trailblazing actor and LGBTQ+ rights advocate George Takei has defied convention and broken barriers throughout his storied career. He is most widely known for his iconic role as Mr. Sulu on the cult-classic television series Star Trek and subsequent films. Takei has also become an articulate advocate for LGBTQ+ rights since coming out as a gay man. Born in California, Takei’s journey began during the difficult years of his childhood spent in internment camps. Despite these challenges, he later rose to prominence in Hollywood and worked alongside legends like Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, and William Shatner.

George Hosato Takei was born on April 20, 1937, in Los Angeles, California. He comes from a Japanese-American family deeply affected by their internment during World War II. His parents, Fumiko Emily, and Takekuma Norman Takei, provided him with a strong sense of identity and perseverance, despite the challenges they faced.

From age four to eight, Takei found himself confined within an internment camp alongside his family. Though too young to grasp the harsh social and political realities, he later recalled, “Yes, I remember the barbed wire and the guard towers and the machine guns.” Yet, amidst this grim backdrop, he also found simple joys in catching tadpoles, watching them metamorphose into frogs, and experiencing the first touch of snow.

After the family finally broke free from the shackles of the internment camps, George’s heart sank when he overheard a teacher sneer, “Oh, it’s that little Jap boy.” This devastating moment amplified his feeling of being an outcast in society. To make matters worse, George faced a harsh truth—he was gay. In a world where acceptance was scarce, George swallowed the pain and suffered in silence.

Fresh out of Los Angeles High School, where he had dazzled as a drama club sensation and student body president, Takei found himself at a crossroads. In a twist of fate, he bowed to his parents’ wishes and enrolled at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley as an architecture major. Acting is too risky a profession, they cautioned, fearing for their son’s future. Little did they know Takei’s destiny would not be contained by the constraints of their expectations.

While still a student, Takei crossed paths with an importer of Japanese sci-fi flicks in need of someone to dub the soundtracks. Flying under the radar and uncredited, Takei lent his voice to not one, but two film masterpieces: ‘Gojira no gyakushû’ (1955), directed by Motoyoshi Oda, and ‘Sora no daikaijû’ (1956), helmed by Ishirō Honda.

After spending two years at Berkeley, Takei made a daring move, transferring to UCLA and finally embracing his passion for theatre. Earning his bachelor’s degree in 1960, he did not stop there. Takei jetted off to the prestigious Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, only to return to UCLA and earn his M.A. in theatre in 1964. Takei also attended the elite Desilu Workshop for actors, and stealthily appeared, often uncredited, in both films and television shows.

Enter the visionary producer Gene Roddenberry, who, recognizing Takei’s undeniable talent, offered him the role of Mr. Sulu in the ground-breaking science-fiction series that was destined to become a cult classic—Star Trek!

The enigmatic Mr. Sulu, an American of Japanese and Filipino descent, first appeared as an astrophysicist in the pilot episode. But fate had grander plans! In 1966, as the series began its illustrious run, Sulu was promoted to the position of helmsman, granting Takei a more vital role in the show, and amplifying his interaction with the other star-studded principal characters.

Takei described Roddenberry as “an extraordinary man, a real visionary. He used to tell the Star Trek cast frequently that the Starship Enterprise was a metaphor for the Starship Earth. And the strength of the starship was its diversity, the crew coming together and working in concert.”

According to Takei, Roddenberry was a man strongly opposed to “homophobia and… prejudice against equality,” who fought valiantly to keep Star Trek on the air. However, Roddenberry recognized “network television is the most conservative medium of communication. If he pushes the envelope too far, the envelope gets burned up.”

The show’s ratings were not strong in its first year, and when the second season’s results were also disappointing, NBC announced plans to cancel it. But hope was not lost. A group of devoted fans, later to become known as Trekkies, launched a letter-writing campaign to save the series.

Their fervent efforts won a reprieve, but at a cost: NBC continued Star Trek but buried it in an unfavorable late-Friday timeslot, ultimately dooming it to cancellation in 1969.

Takei continued his acting career, gracing numerous television shows with his presence. But his passion extended beyond the screen; he stepped into the political arena, serving as a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention and courageously running for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in a special election in 1973. Though he finished second in an excruciatingly close race, his spirit remained unbroken.

In 1973, a new opportunity arose when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley appointed Takei to the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District. As a self-described “urbanist,” Takei fervently advocated for the construction of the subway, deeming it “vital to the mobility of our city.” He also championed the Arts in Transit program, “in which every Metro Rail subway station is given its own distinctive look, thereby fostering neighborhood pride.” Takei’s unwavering commitment to his community shone brightly as he remained on the board until 1984.

Despite its humble beginnings, Star Trek soared to new heights in syndication, capturing the hearts of countless devoted fans. A decade after its untimely cancellation, destiny brought together Takei and many of the original cast members for a triumphant reunion in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, directed by Robert Wise).

Takei’s Mr. Sulu continued his remarkable journey at the helm of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982, directed by Nicholas Meyer), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, directed by Leonard Nimoy), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, directed by Nimoy), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, directed by William Shatner), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991, directed by Meyer).

Takei’s career beyond Star Trek has included of television series such as Murder, She Wrote, Heroes, Will & Grace, Ironside, The Simpsons, and even Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: New Voyages—tributes to the original phenomenon.

Takei’s foray into film includes lending his voice to the character of the First Ancestor in the beloved Disney animated features, Mulan (1998, directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook) and Mulan II (2004, directed by Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland).

In 1995, Takei revealed the deeply personal decision to come out publicly as a gay man. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of a same-sex marriage bill was a pivotal moment, prompting Takei to speak out: “Now that the movement is reaching this point, something unimaginable when I was a teenager, I think I have a responsibility to add my voice.”

In a 2005 conversation with Frontiers magazine, Takei described his revelation as “not really a coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen.”

He reflects on the shame he once felt as a Japanese American, following his internment camp experiences, and the added shame of realizing he was gay in a hetero-normative and often homophobic society. However, with time and understanding, George says, “your understanding of the situation starts to grow. And you think, ‘It’s wrong; this is not right.’ And you start sharing it with more people and you find friends and organizations.”

In a world where love is often judged and shamed, George Takei found his soulmate in a place he never expected – the Los Angeles branch of Frontrunners, a GLBTQ running club. From his high school cross-country days to bearing the Olympic flame during the 1984 games in Los Angeles, running was always a passion for Takei. Little did he know this passion would lead him to the love of his life, Brad Altman. “At a bar, you see a paper, and you see a gay running club. ‘Oh, I’ll show up,’ you think,” Takei revealed of their chance encounter.

Whether their love story was always accepted by society, they never hid their partnership. “Our 18-year relationship was something well known to many friends and relatives,” Takei shared on his blog. “Indeed, we have contributed to non-profit institutions and have had our names together on donor walls, on theatre seats, and in dinner programs—like so many other couples.” Through their openness and love, Takei and Altman have become role models for many, proving love knows no boundaries.

As a testament to his remarkable career, in 1986, Takei was inducted into the prestigious Hollywood Walk of Fame, with a star at 6681 Hollywood Boulevard, recognizing his outstanding contributions to the television industry.

In 2004, the Japanese government bestowed upon Takei the highly esteemed Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. This recognition, which represents the fourth highest of six classes associated with the award, was presented to Takei in appreciation of his significant role in strengthening US-Japanese relations. It is a well-deserved honor for a man whose life and work have bridged cultures and brought people together.

Amid a growing conversation on gay equality, Takei’s voice emerged as a powerful advocate. His dedication to the cause extended even to his work on Star Trek, a series known for its social commentary. Takei recognized the importance of bringing such issues to the forefront, drawing parallels between the Civil Rights movement and the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Joining the Human Rights Campaign’s Coming Out Project, Takei embarked on an “Equality Trek” speaking tour across the United States in April 2006. In recognition of his contributions to the movement, he received the HRC’s Equality Award in July 2007. Even his Star Trek co-star, Leonard Nimoy, appeared to offer his support and present the award.

For Takei, the fight for equality became a deeply personal mission, culminating in a joyous moment in May 2008 when the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. It was a moment of triumph for Takei and his partner of twenty-one years, Brad Altman, as he expressed: “We can have the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities of marriage.”

Takei recalled the injustice of the internment of Japanese Americans and the eventual recognition of the error of the policy and apology from the federal government. “With time, I know the opposition to same-sex marriage, too, will be seen as an antique and discreditable part of our history,” he declared, quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s remarks in the landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which declared sodomy laws unconstitutional, “Times can blind us to certain truths, and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper, in fact, serve only to oppress.”

Takei and Altman’s love story reached its ultimate culmination on September 14, 2008, when they were married at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. A Buddhist priest officiated at the multicultural ceremony. The couple was attended by two of Takei’s Star Trek co-stars, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols, who served as best man and “best lady.”

In recognition of his outstanding contributions, California State University, Los Angeles presented Takei with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on June 10, 2016.

In recent years, Takei has captured the hearts of a new generation of fans with his clever and witty Facebook posts. Through his social media presence and the 2013 release of Star Trek Into Darkness, Takei has remained in the public eye and continue his remarkable career as an actor and activist.

A passionate advocate for immigrant rights, Takei has used his platform to bring awareness to the issue, including through his work on the powerful 2012 Broadway show Allegiance, which focuses on the internment experience. After opening in San Diego in 2012, the show enjoyed a year-long run on Broadway from 2015 to 2016. And now, in a truly triumphant moment, Allegiance has made its West End debut, with previews beginning on January 7, 2023, and an official opening on January 17. The show will run through April 8, 2023, spreading its message of hope and resilience to audiences around the world.

In his later years, Takei received numerous accolades and recognition for his contributions to both the entertainment industry and the fight for social justice. His triumphs over adversity and his commitment to creating a more inclusive world resonated with people from all walks of life, particularly those within the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.

Although George Takei continues to be an active force for change and a celebrated figure in pop culture, his legacy will forever be a testament to the power of resilience, determination, and advocacy for a more fair and just society.

Baby George Takei circa 1939. Photo CBS News Courtesy of George Takei
Baby George Takei circa 1939. Photo CBS News Courtesy of George Takei
A young George Takei (far right) with his father Takekuma and brother Henry, n.d. Photo Unknown.png
A young George Takei (far right) with his father Takekuma and brother Henry, n.d. Photo Unknown
The only surviving photograph of George Takei while he was in the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Camp in Rohwer, Ark., in 1942. Photo George Takei
The only surviving photograph of George Takei while he was in the Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Camp in Rohwer, Ark., in 1942. Photo George Takei
George takei, far right, with his sister, Nancy Reiko Takei, brother Henry Takei, mother Fumiko Emily Takei and father Takekuma Norman Takei, circa 1947. Photo George Takei
George takei, far right, with his sister, Nancy Reiko Takei, brother Henry Takei, mother Fumiko Emily Takei and father Takekuma Norman Takei, circa 1947. Photo George Takei
George Takei's senior class photo at Los Angeles High School in 1956. Photo Blue & White, Los Angeles High School
George Takei’s senior class photo at Los Angeles High School in 1956. Photo Blue & White, Los Angeles High School
George Takei with Rosalind Russel in A Majority of One, 1961. Photo Warner Brothers
George Takei with Rosalind Russel in “A Majority of One”, 1961. Photo Warner Brothers
George Takei as Hikaru Sulu with Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, circa 1960s. Photo CBS
George Takei as Hikaru Sulu with Nichelle Nichols on “Star Trek”, circa 1960s. Photo CBS
George Takei in The Twilight Zone The Encounter episode, 1964
George Takei in The Twilight Zone “The Encounter” episode, 1964
George Takei as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, circa 1960s. Photo CBS, via Getty Images
George Takei as Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek”, circa 1960s. Photo CBS, via Getty Images
George Takei when he received his BAchelor of Arts in theater arts from UCLA in 1960. Photo
George Takei when he received his BAchelor of Arts in theater arts from UCLA in 1960. Photo

About the Authors

Troy Wise is currently a PhD student at UAL Central St Martins and teaches fashion and graphic design at London College of Contemporary Arts. His background is in marketing and is founder and co-editor of Image Amplified. He lives in, and is continually fascinated by, the city of London.

Rick Guzman earned his most recent MA at UAL Central St Martins in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries. He currently holds two MA’s and an MBA in the New Media, Journalism and International Business fields. Co-editor at Image Amplified since its start, he lives in London, is fascinated by history and is motivated by continuing to learn and explore.



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