News - May 1996

Gene Roddenberry's grandson endorses Voyager Visibility Project

The grandson of Gene Roddenberry, creator of the legendary Star Trek television series, recently endorsed proposals by the Voyager Visibility Project that the program's producers add a positive, on-going gay or lesbian character to the cast of Star Trek: Voyager.

Richard Compton Jr., step-son of Roddenberry's daughter Dawn, today issued the following public statement:

"I wholeheartedly support the Voyager Visibility Project's efforts to add an on-going gay or lesbian character to Star Trek: Voyager. I feel that the producers of Voyager fail to exhibit the social foresight that my grandfather has shown. Only through 20th Century activism can the 23rd Century goal of a hateless society be met.

"As a gay man who has deeply suffered from that hate, I must ask Paramount the following: Does the backlash you anticipate for showing a gay or lesbian human being in a positive light outweigh the pain of those of us forced to contend with stereotypes,those of us who have lost our jobs, our rights, and in some cases our lives.

Gene Roddenberry promised us representation on Star Trek, where is it? Must there be closets in the 23rd Century, too?"

The Voyager Visibility Project is an organization of gay and lesbian science fiction fans, writers and media activists, sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which recently launched an internet-based petition drive demanding that Star Trek producers Rich Berman, Jeri Taylor and Michael Pillar live up to Gene Roddenberry's August 1991 statement that gay and lesbian crewmembers would begin appearing on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the fall of that year.

"Unfortunately, Gene Roddenberry died in November of 1991," says Timothy Perkins, volunteer director of the Voyager Visibility Project, "And Rick Berman, who has broken from the optimistic future envisioned by Roddenberry in a number of ways, immediately began back-peddling away from Roddenberry's commitment to include gay characters. Five years and three iterations of Star Trek later, we want the producers to finally live up to Roddenberry's wishes."

Perkins said that he was thrilled when Compton called and offered to help in any way he could after reading an article about the project in a San Francisco gay publication.

"Richard immediately visited our website (www.gaytrek.com/gaytrek/) in order to sign our e-mail petition to Paramount and took the time to complete an interview that will be posted at our site within the next week," says Perkins.

"Richard knows firsthand the price gays and lesbians pay for homophobia in this society, homophobia based on stereotypes that go unchallenged by programs like Star Trek which continue to render us invisible in future society.

"In the interview, Richard discusses the fact that he was forbidden to visit or call his natural mother because of the homophobia of her new husband, he lost a job with a major oil company after coming out at work and he was attacked and stabbed eight times by gay bashers in New Mexico. He also discusses Roddenberry's work and conversations he had with Ernie Over, a gay man who was Roddenberry's personal assistant during his last years at the studio and who was dismissed soon after Roddenberry's death."

The Voyager Visibility Project internet petition has garnered more than five thousand signatures from fans in every state in the U.S. and 26 foreign countries. A number of cast members from various Star Trek programs have endorsed the concept of gay and lesbian characters, including Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, and Leonard Nimoy, who expressed his support in 1991 when a Boston-based gay and lesbian science fiction organization known as the Gaylaxians first brought the proposal to Roddenberry's attention. Unfortunately, says Perkins, a number of actors and crewmembers who express support in private are muzzled by their contracts, fear of losing their jobs or other concerns about taking a public position.

Perkins, creative director at a small advertising and multimedia firm in San Francisco, believes that it is well past time for Rick Berman and Paramount Studios to end what amounts to a policy of avoidance and de facto discrimination through the red-lining of positive gay and lesbian characters.

"Although Star Trek has produced one or two programs that included 'metaphors' for gay and lesbian characters, the characters portrayed in these programs are inevitably aliens. We have yet to see a human being or a member of the crew who is openly gay or lesbian." adds Perkins.

Perkins believes that such portrayals are important in order to break down stereotypes and give gay and lesbian youth hope for the future.

"Whoopi Goldberg has said that she appeared on Star Trek: TNG partly because the character of Uhura on the original show gave her hope for her own future at a time when there were few black role-models on television," says Perkins, "Gay and lesbian youth, who often feel very isolated and are at high risk for suicide, need to see a view of the future that includes them. In fact, we all need to see ourselves as part of the future. Although we've made some progress in the last year in terms of gay and lesbian characterizations on television, I think we need to see gay and lesbian characters who are more than foils for straight comics, token symbols of hipness or tragic soap opera characters embroiled in a brave struggle against prejudice. We need to see gay and lesbian characters in a future society which accepts them for who they are --where they are judged by more important qualities than the gender of those they love."

According to gay and lesbian fans, there has been a long history of dissembling and excuses from the producers of Star Trek, including everything from claiming that Roddenberry only meant to produce one episode that would address the 'issue' of sexual orientation and claiming 'not to understand' how to portray a gay crewmember without showing that person engaged in stereotypical behavior to a refusal to acknowledge the long history of letters, phone calls, faxes and petitions from gay and lesbian fans.

"Berman, Taylor, Pillar and Paramount have never acknowledged any of our correspondence," says Perkins, "let alone offered to schedule a meeting to discuss our concerns.

"It's sad that a program known for such a progressive and optimistic vision of the future now lags behind situation comedies and soap operas in regard to the inclusion of gay and lesbian characters."

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