Exclusive Interview with George Takei
George Takei knows what it’s like to be celebrated as an actor, as a political activist, and as an Internet sensation. Whether he’s recognized for his activism by GLAAD (this year he earned the Vito Russo Award) or by his fans, seven million of whom follow him on facebook, his life is rarely private - and always honorable.
He stars in his own documentary, called "To Be Takei," produced by Jennifer Kroot, which is making its debut on DirecTV Cinema on July 3, and will be available for viewing through August 5. The documentary’s TV debut is in the run-up to a brick-and-mortar theatrical release later this summer.
I was honored to have a chance to talk to George Takei about the state of LGBT equality, about his documentary, and the upcoming Broadway debut of his musical, "Allegiance."
When I asked my friends and readers if they had any questions for you, most of them said, "Just tell him ’Thank you’ for all he’s done."
We’re all pulling the same wagon here. All I’m doing is simply making my contribution. Isn’t it amazing how far we’ve come in just a few short years?
You’ve personally come a long way since coming out to the world back in 2005.
It has been a dramatic, amazing, almost surreal experience. The State Department sent me on a two-week speaking tour through South Korea and Japan, and I ended up being honored at a reception hosted by the American ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. At that reception, one of the guests was the First Lady of Japan, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mrs. Akie Abe. She told me that she had ridden on a float in Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride just the week before. Can you believe that someone like the First Lady of Japan rode in the Pride Parade?
And then go back to 2005, when both houses of the California Legislature passed a landmark marriage equality bill. Massachusetts had marriage equality at that time, but it came through the courts...so for the first time, the legislature had legalized marriage equality, and the bill went to the desk of the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he vetoed it. When the press interviewed him, he kept saying in this robotic tone, ’I have no problem with marriage equality, but I vetoed it.’ And later on we learn that, at that time, he was carrying on with his housekeeper under his wife Maria Shriver’s nose!
To think, from that time to now, when I’m meeting the First Lady of Japan and I’m being honored at a reception by Caroline Kennedy, it’s just surreal to see how much in my life has changed in just nine short years.
Recently, the Fort Lauderdale City Council approved a marriage equality resolution, but the mayor voted against it. How do you feel when you hear people voice their opposition to equality considering that’s clearly the way the country is headed?
Right now there are 19 states and Washington D.C. where there’s marriage equality, and a number of states have found their bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional. There was a poll recently out in California that showed that 78% of people under the age of 40 were for LGBT equality - and this isn’t just marriage equality, this is for equal LGBT rights across the board. I personally think we’ll have marriage equality nationwide within the next two years. It’s a matter of longevity. That [intolerant] generation will be dying out and then there will be the best chance for equality and for all of us to be united.
You were recently the Grand Marshal of the Pride Parade in Columbus, Ohio. Tell me about that experience. How did that come about?
Ohio is a battleground state. The Speaker of the House is from Ohio, specifically the Cincinnati area, which is a very conservative area. But Columbus, which is the capital of Ohio, is one of the most advanced parts of the state. There is an extraordinary individual who lives there.
Do you remember the last presidential election? There was a debate, and a young soldier videoed in his question to the candidates running for the Republican nomination. He was on the battlefield in Iraq, and he asked "If one of you should get elected President of the United States and become Commander-in-Chief of the military, would you reinstate ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ or would you let gays and lesbians continue to serve patriotically?’ " And the Republican audience booed an American soldier fighting for this country in Iraq. It was shocking.
And the next thing that struck me while watching that on television was the silence from all of the candidates. It was very telling. And then, finally, Rick Santorum spoke up and he said, "The military is not a place for sex." How can he say that? The guys are always talking about sex. "Look at that hot babe there." They have pictures of near-nude women posted inside their locker doors. Sex is rampant in the military! And the humiliation and the bullying of LGBT soldiers was rampant during "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." People serving honorably could be humiliated and fired.