By Kallie Reed, Staff Writer
On November 10, the University of Missouri-St. Louis hosted George Takei, actor and activist, at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Takei is best known for his role as Captain Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the starship Enterprise in the iconic sci-fi series “Star Trek.” He has since become a leading activist for LGBT rights and has developed a strong presence in social media.
Takei’s fight for equal rights did not begin recently. However, he has been an activist fighting for equality for decades. In April of 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Takei and his family were forced from their Los Angeles home at gunpoint by American soldiers and taken to an internment camp in the swamps of Arkansas; George was just five years old. In all, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in internment camps across the United States. They were stripped of their possessions and human rights and forced to live behind barbed wire, under the constant supervision of armed guards, simply because they looked similar to those who attacked Pearl Harbor.
These horrific events greatly affected Takei; he described it as a “catastrophic change in our lives.” Takei and his family were released from the camp three years later, though they would continue to face rampant hostility and racism for years to come.
George was a young man when the Civil Rights Movement began, and he was so inspired by the cause that he became determined to help in any way he could. Takei became heavily involved with the political process and social justice campaigns. He participated in civil rights marches and rallies, he was active in the peace movement during the Vietnam War, and he was even introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Though for all of his humanitarian and social justice work, there was one personal aspect that was missing. Takei discovered that he was gay when he was 10 years old, though because of the times he did not feel comfortable coming out, and would not feel comfortable coming out publicly for years to come.
The Gay Liberation Movement began in the summer of 1969 when the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan, New York. The patrons resisted police brutality and a revolution broke out which lasted for five nights. Takei stayed silent during this time for the sake of his career, supporting the movement financially. Though with the outbreak of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Takei and his husband Brad decided they would stay silent no longer. In the mid 1980s, George and Brad publicly marched in a gay movement rally for the first time.
Takei ended his lecture stating, “This is a great country, yes there are setbacks, but when you look at the great scope of American history, we are making progress…Our American democracy will live long and prosper.”
The evening concluded with a question and answer time with the audience. One UMSL student asked, in light of the recent election, “Where do we go from here as a nation?” Takei responded, “I implore all of you to engage.” He stated the importance of participation in activism and pleaded that all citizens participate and volunteer in campaigns, and be inspired by the ideals of this country.