George Takei Beams Into Austin
Star Trek star and internet icon has stories and wisdom to share
By Mikaila Rushing,
10:30AM, Mon. Apr. 30, 2018
George Takei, queer icon, author, actor, director, and activist is coming to the Long Center’s Dell Hall on May 4. But it's not all fun and games at this show.
Takei's Austin set will span stories of his life starting with his experience being imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp in the 1940s to the criminalization of gay behavior. He hopes to bridge the two topics as a way of shedding light on what it means to be a “people’s democracy.”
“My father told me when I was a teenager that a people’s democracy has potential to do great things,” Takei tells "Gay Place." “And great things have been done in the history of this country. But people are also fallible.”
To Takei, that fallibility means a government, even one run by the people, has potential to do great harm. He was only 5-years-old when he and his family (all American citizens born and raised in the U.S.) were taken to internment camps without due process. “We were imprisoned in these barbed wire prison camps with sentry towers, machine guns pointed at us, search lights following me when I’m in the ruts of the latrine,” Takei recalls. “It was the most egregious violation of the Constitution.”
Takei draws a parallel between the violation of Japanese Americans’ freedoms and the discrimination he faced as a gay man throughout the Sixties (and beyond). Even after Takei found the queer community later in his life, in places such as gay bars, he remembers needing to be careful. Older community members warned of police raids where officers would arrest patrons, take their pictures and fingerprints, and put them on a list of deviants and predators.
“[It] was terrifying,” Takei says. “We could lose our jobs, our careers – some people could lose their families. And what were we doing? We were just relaxing and getting together with people we were comfortable with.”
Today, he believes American can't properly uphold its values unless it acknowledges the harm it has caused numerous minority groups. But, while Takei has quite a few doubts to express, he ultimately feels that society has progressed tremendously.
Not only has gayness been largely decriminalized and marriage equality achieved, Takei feels that the immediate response to Trump’s Muslim travel ban last year is evidence of how far much of America has come. When Takei was incarcerated as a child, few politicians spoke out, and the public remained largely silent. Colorado’s then-governor Ralph Carr attempted to take a stand and in response lost the election for a 1942 U.S. Senate seat. But when Trump attempted to enact his Muslim travel ban in 2017, people across the country rushed to airports to protest, lawyers volunteered their services, and even the deputy attorney general at the time refused to defend the executive order. The response was a stark contrast, and one that Takei wishes he had seen in the 1940s.
“I do think we, as a nation, have progressed,” he explains. “But there are individuals who have not.” With some of those individuals taking up residence in the White House, Takei says it’s still important for people to stay (or become) actively engaged with all levels of government. By sharing his past and his concerns for a government run by fallible people, he hopes to inspire folks to keep fighting for equal rights.