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George Takei discusses why there weren't any gay characters in space in the 23rd century.

Space. The Final Frontier. Where sexuality is still an unfortunate taboo.

George Takei discusses why there weren't any gay characters in space in the 23rd century.

Before George Takei was the source of silly Internet memes, he was known for playing Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the original "Star Trek" series.

And "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry was an early champion of diversity and representation. As Takei explains in a recent interview with Big Think, Roddenberry considered the Starship Enterprise to be, "a metaphor for Starship Earth, and the strength of this starship lay in its diversity."

When it came to the show's Asian character, Takei says, Roddenberry didn't want him to be associated with any specific Asian country. He wanted Takei to represent multiple groups in an imagined, idealistic future that had evolved beyond earthly border disputes and superficial racial squabbles.


"The problem [Roddenberry] had was to find a name for this Asian character from the 23rd century because every Asian surname is nationally specific," Takei explains.


GIFset via Big Think.

And that's how Takei's character came to have the name Sulu.

"Star Trek" boldly went where no show had gone before ... but in 1966, it could still only go so far.

The show was undoubtedly progressive for its time. In addition to launching a long-running sci-fi franchise and the careers of several notable actors, "Star Trek" also gave us the first interracial kiss on television.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) locked lips with Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in "Plato's Stepchildren," an episode originally broadcast on November 22, 1968. And even that scene only made it to air because Shatner and Nichols purposely messed up the network-requested takes where their characters didn't kiss.

GIF from "Star Trek: The Original Series."

While that's an exciting hallmark to celebrate, and we can appreciate the significance of it today, some people weren't as receptive back then.

GIF via Big Think.

According to Takei, "Our ratings plummeted. It was the lowest-rated episode that we had."

That was just one of the factors that led to the show's cancellation later that year after three seasons on the air. And, unfortunately, that's also one reason there were no explicitly gay or lesbian characters in the show's idealistic version of the future.

Takei says he did, very privately, bring up the issue of gay and lesbian characters on "Star Trek" with Roddenberry.

And while Roddenberry was, "as a sophisticated man, mindful of that…" he also shied away from addressing LGBTQ issues head-on, in favor of dealing with other issues that he felt were more pressing at the time.

GIFset via Big Think.

Of course, the exclusion of explicitly gay or lesbian characters still didn't save the show from cancellation. (I say "explicitly" because Roddenberry did suggest in William Shatner's 1979 biography that Kirk and Spock could have shared in the "Greek ideal" of love — much to the relief of fan-fic writers everywhere.)

We're certainly on our way to the bright future envisioned in "Star Trek" … but we haven't quite reached that final frontier.

Science fiction shows like "Star Trek" still give us something to aspire to in 2015.

And while things aren't perfect, we're a lot better off than we were in 1968 — a recent GLAAD report points to MTV and FX in particular as having nearly 50% LGBTQ-inclusive programming. But that's only half of the shows on two cable networks that feature queer characters.

Heck, there still hasn't been a queer character on any of the subsequent "Star Trek" series, or the recent movie reboots.

Like Takei discussed with Roddenberry, we know sometimes progress takes a while. There's plenty of work left to do, but it's still nice to know that we're headed in the right direction, and that progress is being made.

And even Takei himself is feeling pretty good about it:


GIFset via Big Think.

Cheers to you, Lieutenant Sulu. Now let's keep going boldly toward that brighter future.

Here's the full video, courtesy of Big Think:


Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."