TOKYO – George Takei said he needed courage and anger to come out as gay and to join the equal rights movement for sexual minorities in the U.S., and he hopes his Japanese counterparts will do the same to make their society more equal.
Takei said he has noticed a movement beginning in Japan, though the country of his ancestry has a long way to go. He said Japanese people need to fight for their own rights and they need to be a bit angry, too.
The “Star Trek” actor also known for his gay and civil rights activism, said he was encouraged to have met with Japanese activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and even some of their parents fighting for their children.
“They have to have courage to come out and share their lives honestly,” Takei said. Once they get a ball rolling, more movement would follow, like “a ripple effect” that spreads, he added. “So I’m optimistic. I do think that Japan will be one of the nations that have equality and that too will serve as an example for other Asian nations.”
In a country where conformity is highly required, many sexual minorities still fear discrimination at work and bullying at schools, and many don’t come out. Around the Asia-Pacific region, only New Zealand has legalized same-sex marriage.
Takei, 77, is in Japan to attend embassy-organized events marking LGBT Pride Month in the U.S. He later toasted gay rights at a reception hosted by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy attended by about 160 people, including Japan’s first lady Akie Abe.
Delighted by a miniature of Starship Enterprise from Kennedy before the reception, Takei said it was perfect for the occasion: “That is our Utopian future. This Enterprise (starship in Star Trek) is a metaphor of Starship Earth with all of its diversity — not only the diversity of race and culture and history but also the unseen diversity of orientation, all coming together working in concert for a better future. And that is what we are doing here tonight. “
At a U.S. Embassy-sponsored talk, Takei said he was silent for decades due to fear of hurting his acting career. But he came out in 2005 when then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. A strong believer of civil liberty coming from his upbringing as a Japanese-American who spent part of his childhood in an internment camp with his family during World War II, Takei said he had to speak up.
He and his longtime partner, Brad Altman, were married in 2008. Takei said they chose to marry in a public ceremony for the sake of diversity and democracy.
The U.S. has come a long way with more states recognizing same-sex marriages and banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but further effort is needed to cover all 50 states, Kennedy said.
“African-Americans, women, people with disabilities, and gay men and lesbian have reminded all Americans that we are each entitled to the same rights, liberties, responsibilities and opportunities,” Kennedy said in an opening speech. “Those struggle to transform our society, here tonight we celebrate the countless acts of courage and commitment and reaffirm that LGBT rights are human rights.”
Akie Abe, who became the first Japanese first lady this year to participate in a LGBT march, said she did that as she supports the cause of creating a society that tolerates more diversity. She said she became a supporter of LGBT rights through her work against AIDS.
“There is no difference to importance of love from sexual orientation. There should not be any discrimination because who you love,” she said. “I am going to raise my voice. If my raised voice could contribute to the pride of LGBT people, there is no greater joy.”