Star Trek has brought together black and white, human and android, and Klingon and Vulcan but has left us no clue about whether or not it gets better for LGBT people in the 24th century.
There has never been an openly gay character in any incarnation of Star Trek, which is surprising—both because the franchise has featured hundreds of characters across 13 movies and 716 episodes of television and because it's always touted a not-so-subtle message of tolerance and diversity. Since the '60s, Trek has brought together black and white, Russian and American, human and android, and Klingon and Vulcan but has left us no clue about whether or not it gets better for LGBT people in the 23rd and 24th centuries (We're only counting official canon material here, not the homoerotic Kirk/Spock fan fiction that exists out there in disturbing quantities.)
Star Trek into Darkness, which opens this week, probably won't do anything to correct this. JJ Abrams has tossed aside all the socially conscious aspects of Star Trek to appeal to 18-to-34-year-old males through gripping action sequences and a half-naked Alice Eve. (In its hilarious video review of 2009's Star Trek, Red Letter Media even noted that the script went out of its way to establish that each character definitely is not gay, from Spock's tonsil hockey with Uhura to McCoy's mention of his ex-wife.)
But in the past Star Trek writers have tried, using the elaborate sci-fi metaphors they love so much, to tackle LGBT issues, even if they were prohibited from outright featuring LGBT people. As we anticipate the newest, possibly most heteronormative Star Trek movie yet, we celebrate these five noble and very awkward efforts.
1. "The Host" — Star Trek: The Next Generation
Original air date: May 11, 1991
Dr. Crusher, the Enterprise's chief medical officer and resident MILF, gets cozy with Odan, a diplomat from the little-known Trill alien race, as the ship transports him to negotiate a treaty between the warring moons of some planet. In a misunderstanding, a shuttle carrying Odan is fired upon and he is horribly injured. It is then that the crew discovers that the Trill are actually little gross-looking slugs. The man-shaped thing Dr. Crusher was boffing was just a host body, which can be traded in for a new one when it gets old or damaged. Commander Riker acts as a temporarily host for Odan and the space summit goes on. In the end comes the Sapphic twist: Odan's new body is female and she/he wants to continue her/his fling with Dr. Crusher. "Perhaps it is a human failing but we are not accustomed to these kind of changes," she tells Odan, meaning that the good doctor will get into bed with shifty aliens with weird ridged foreheads but for some reason draws the line at space ladies.
2. "The Outcast" — Star Trek: The Next Generation
Original air date: March 16, 1992
The Enterprise comes to the aid of the J'Naii after they lost a ship in some space wrinkle. Unlike any other Star Trek race we've seen so far, the J'Naii are genderless; they all kind of look like pixie haircut-era Cat Power. Riker is paired with a J'Naii named Soren in a mission to retrieve the ship. Soren begins pelting him with questions about the differences between males and females. "Physically, men are bigger, stronger in the upper body," explains Riker, adding, "We have different sexual organs." Soon Soren feels attracted to Riker and all his beardy manliness, and Riker's body language indicates he'd like to tap whatever it is Soren has got. Then we learn that being a J'Naii with any sexual orientation is like being gay in Saudi Arabia or Utah. Those who feel "male" or "female" in the presence of bi-gender aliens are sent off to reeducation camps. After another J'Naii witnesses a kiss between Soren and Riker, the former disappears. The rest of the episode is dedicated to Riker's attempt to spring Soren from the J'Naii equivalent of Exodus International.
3. "Rejoined" — Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Original air date: Oct. 30, 1995
The third Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine, featured one of the aforementioned Trill as a main character, though they were redesigned to have spots along the neck and face instead of arcs on their foreheads so as to not interfere with actress Terry Farrell's hotness. In "Rejoined," Farrell's Lt. Jadxia Dax is reunited with Lenara Kahn, to whom she was previously married when inhabiting a male host. Now, both are female, but they're still hot for each other. A human taboo is disguised as an alien one, as Dax frets over the norm that Trills are not supposed to rekindle romances from their previous host lives. (Strangely, the fact that the two are both currently women isn't even mentioned.) Before the episode ends, the two lock lips briefly, and—hey, wouldn't you know it—right in time for a Neilsen sweeps week. Star Trek was apparently not too high-minded for an entry into the lesbian kiss episode genre of the '90s.
4. "Chimera" — Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Original air date: Feb. 17, 1999
Each Star Trek show had a character who acts as an outsider to humanity or to the human-ish characters that dominated every crew. On Deep Space Nine, that character was Odo, the titular space station's chief of security. Though he could take any shape—a mouse, a chair or, most often, a six-foot-tall security officer—Odo's natural state was a big puddle of goo. Because of the more pessimistic world view of DS9, the writers never allowed the perpetually grumpy Odo to overcome his sense of alienation from all the other characters, who had permanent solid forms full of bones and organs. In "Chimera," Odo meets Laas, another of his kind, and invites him to spend some time on DS9. The two engage in the semi-sexual activity of "linking," melting into the same puddle. While Odo is quietly uneasy around other people, Laas shows open disdain for "monoforms," as a preemption to their petty fear of anything markedly different from them, and Odo begins to see his point. Laas transforms into a fog spreading over the station's promenade. Though the crew is annoyed, Odo says Laas is just changing forms, as changelings do. "Well, can't he 'be fog' somewhere else?" asks Chief Petty Officer Miles O'Brien, the show's everyman stand-in. His reaction echoes the sentiment of everyone you know who is ostensibly "OK" with gay people, but recoils at seeing anyone actually acting gay. Odo realizes that by spending most of his time as a bipedal humanoid, he is engaging in what, in sociological parlance, is called passing: dropping every attribute of his own cultural group to be accepted into another. In case there was any confusion around the metaphor, Quark, the Ferengi bartender, warns Odo, "This is no time for a Changeling pride demonstration on the promenade." Also, two Klingons decide to commit a hate crime.
5. "Stigma" — Star Trek: Enterprise
Original air date: Feb. 5, 2003
Enterprise, the final Star Trek series, is the first in the franchise's internal chronology. It was set a century before the time of Kirk and Spock, on the very first spaceship called Enterprise. Back then, Vulcans were surprisingly redneck. In "Stigma," TPol, the ship's curvy Vulcan first officer, tries to hunt down information on Pa'nar Syndrome without letting on that she suffers from this highly stigmatized ailment. Pa'nar is spread through mind melds (that thing where Spock reads some screaming dude's thoughts by placing his fingertips on his forehead). Back then Vulcans considered melds an "unnatural activity" practiced by a detested "minority" of telepaths. Thus, finding a cure was not a priority. The fact that T'Pol contracted it through a forced meld a season earlier matters not to the dick-ish Vulcan authorities she encounters. Though it came 15 years late, "Stigma" is a parable for the story of AIDS in the '80s with the Vulcans in the role of the Reagan administration.