Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Coupledom

The sci-fi franchise goes where no gays have gone before.

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This is in part a repost of my article first published on the LGBT silo of nbcnews.com on October 13, 2017.

This blogpost includes original content not included with the article on NBC Out, and here appears in bold. 

The fact that for the first time in the 51-year history of “Star Trek,” out gay actors are playing gay characters in love, is not something CBS, its stars or its creators are either hiding or promoting. But it is something they’re celebrating.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of ‘Star Trek’ TV’s first gay couple,” actor Anthony Rapp of “Rent” fame told NBC News. “I can’t say how much that means to me personally as a fan of the series and as a member of the LGBT community.”

Rapp plays the prickly, grumpy genius anastromycologist Lt. Paul Stamets, which basically means he’s the foremost expert on fungus. And fungus gets far more screen-time than his same-sex relationship on the CBS All Access streaming show, which is just fine with Rapp.

“I’m proud of the fact that none of that really matters in the show,” Rapp said, describing the portrayal of their relationship as “alive, truthful and human.”

IMG_8186His on-screen partner and costar, Wilson Cruz, who plays Dr. Hugh Culber, called Rapp his “space boo” on stage at New York Comic Con. They’ve been friends since they starred together on Broadway two decades ago. “We’ve worked together for 20 years, so it was so easy to create this together, because we have so much back history.”

Cruz won applause during the evening event at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, when he spoke up for transgender rights, called out violence based on gender identity and called for more LGBTQ representation in entertainment. “These stories we tell are really important, so that people understand who we are, what our lives are like, and perhaps they will understand us and not hate us.”

Cruz was quick to denounce the actions of the Trump administration to rollback LGBT rights and attempts to erase protections against discrimination.

“I’m livid,” Cruz told me before Saturday night’s panel at the Paley Center. “We have a president who cares very little for LGBT people,” he said. “His words mean nothing and his actions mean everything, and he’s saying everything he really believes in his actions.”

“It saddens me that this continues to be the case,” Rapp told me, saying despite the government’s actions, he remains encouraged. “The backlash that comes is only possible because of the progress. So it is in direct opposition to progress. It’s like the last gasp.”

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The “Star Trek” franchise, said actor Jason Isaacs, is inclusive of “all genders, all sexualities, all flavors, not just of humans, but in our show of [other] species as well. The point being, things we are told should separate us, actually unite us.”

“The original series was borne out of troubled times, “ Isaacs continued, ”the birth of the civil rights movement and feminism, and I think there’s never been a time where a story like this, with a positive view of the future — even though we’re at war in the show — has been more necessary, than when division is being sown by some really toxic elements.”

President Trump and his Justice Department’s newly announced policies threatening LGBT rights, and the administration’s continued efforts to curtail reproductive rights and threats to immigrants, were as talked about on the red carpet as were the Discovery’s groundbreaking spore drive, Vulcans and Klingons.

IMG_8187“Star Trek: Discovery” Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman said the franchise has “always been about inclusion.”

“We’re not value-neutral when it comes to the issues of people being isolated, separated, not understood, ostracized,” Goldsman explained.

Citing proof of the show’s inclusivity, Alex Kurtzman, also an executive producer on the series, said the team behind the scenes is an even mix of men and women. He also revealed the show’s producers decided a refocus was necessary following President Trump’s unexpected election victory. That included a not-accidental nod to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, by giving the show’s antagonists, the Klingons, a new rallying cry: “Remain Klingon.”

PaleyFest: Star Trek Discovery

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Cruz was swift to point out that from sexual harassment of women to racial inclusion, Hollywood has a lot more work to do, especially from his perspective as an industry trailblazer. He was the first out Latino actor on network television, playing the first openly gay teenager on TV: the character of Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life” in the mid-1990s. Times have changed, Cruz said.

“But the fact of the matter is,” he told fans, “most of the LGBTQ characters now on TV are still gay white men. The work that needs to be done now is to diversify the picture of LGBTQ people, so that people can see that we come from all races, different genders, we have trans people.” Cruz’s character on the U.S.S. Discovery is only the second regular “Star Trek” character of Latinix heritage, following the half-Klingon, half-human B’elanna Torres played by Rosario Dawson on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

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As gay actors, Cruz and Rapp have tremendous allies both on the screen and in front of it, largely thanks to social media. “Star Trek: Discovery” is the first installment of the franchise since the creation of Twitter and Facebook.

“The ‘Trek’ community is so profoundly engaged,” Rapp said. “We’re all in this together. Yes, I’m the one in the show, and you’re the one consuming the show. But we all care about it, and we get to share in that.”

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Although CBS boasts the show has boosted subscriptions to its streaming service, a lot of the online chatter is centered on criticism of the network’s decision to hide it behind a paywall. Isaacs, who plays Discovery’s sexy, mysterious and mercurial Captain Gabriel Lorca, told Comic Con fans that controversy is not something the cast wants to address, and directed the question to “the other end of the panel.”

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Executive producer Kurtzman took the bull by the horns, and didn’t mince words. He told fans paid content is where television is going, following in the footsteps of Netflix, Hulu, now Disney, and of course the pay TV granddaddy, HBO.

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Another topic of internet speculation concerns Mary Wiseman’s character, Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Is she more than just a talkative space rookie, perhaps someone on the autism spectrum?

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“In terms of the script, no one’s put a label on it,” Wiseman told NBC. “I think the idea that someone would see Tilly and recognize part of themselves in that performance, or that they would feel represented, is deeply moving to me, and gratifying.”

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Series star, the stunning Sonequa Martin-Green who rose to fame in The Walking Dead, told us her favorite part of playing mutineer Michael Burnham is her character’s desire to better understand other people.

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“I’m on a journey of self-discovery and I have an issue of arrested development because of what I’ve gone through,” she said, alluding to the challenges no woman in the franchise’s history has ever tackled: Burnham is an orphan raised on Vulcan as an adopted member of Spock’s family. Her actions set in motion the war between the Federation and the Klingons.

Klingons

Speaking of Klingons, Mary Chieffo plays the imposing L’Rell, a character she describes as more than just intimidating; the six-foot-tall beauty revealed L’Rell has a quality Star Trek fans have never before seen in a Klingon: vulnerability.

Mary Chieffo

“I really hope,” she said, “whether it be LGBTQ, or anyone who sees themselves as ‘other,’ is able to relate to the Klingons, to L’Rell. I think there’s a lot there that I relate to, as someone who’s never felt quite in the vein of what other people wanted me to be.”

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Just as Rapp and Cruz hope to convey their humanity in their performances, Chieffo said she, Martin-Green and Wiseman aim to be strong female role models for girls.

“You don’t have to be fully-armored,” she said, “to be badass.”

 

 

Want more? Watch the videos from my Facebook Live stream by clicking these links!

Thanks to CBS, startrek.com and justjared.com for the photos appearing here. 

Special thanks to New York Comic Con and the Paley Center for Media for welcoming me to cover these two events for my readers here and at NBC News! 

Shame On Me

Fool me once, shame on you. 

Fool me again, shame on me.

That little ditty has been running through my head as I have learned — the hard way — the price of being authentic. Of expressing my opinion. Of trusting the universe will allow me to be without slapping me back down. Shame on me for thinking I can have all those things.

Just two people reached out to me this week, among the hundreds who read and responded to a recent opinion piece I wrote for The Advocate Magazine, offering to help me better understand a situation with which I am somewhat familiar, but not intimately nor with any personal experience; that of the detention of undocumented immigrants who are transgender.

That actually was not the subject I set out to write about, but for the central figure in the story and her supporters, it’s all that matters. What Jennicet Gutiérrez and her story represent is something that I have spent some time considering these last couple days. 4c72cc56a00532cd25647e0044b663569b27a672343c9dfd942c43ce6252b56c_thumb_medium

I did so, not because hundreds of mean people in their pajamas trash-talked me on Twitter, or because fringe “journalists” denounced my point of view as “privileged” and “classist.”

I did it because I enjoy learning things, especially when it’s something I don’t know well enough.

I took time to better acquaint myself with the views of people I respect, who were kind enough to constructively criticize my opinion without doing to me what I accused Gutiérrez of doing to the president.

What I wrote about was respect. I went so far as to call Gutiérrez rude. My point was to discuss civility, not activism or rape or race or the immigration status of any individual.

But no matter how many times I echoed the comments of others in praising Gutiérrez for achieving a policy change and for standing-up, no matter how I denounced those who booed her, all my detractors saw was me “shaming” or “shitting on” a trans Latina woman, and judging me “on the color of my skin,” and not “on the content of my character,” to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

One “friend” saw an opportunity to drag my name through the media mud once more: she misquoted me, mocked and dishonored the memory of my grandmother and aunt in suggesting they and all Irish immigrants were liars, and took me to the woodshed in a rival publication which someone I respect and admire once described as “one step below writing for al Qaeda.”

Well, friends and followers, I’m not going to flip-flop, or print a retraction, or apologize — my response tweet Wednesday basically said it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone, and I’m sorry that anyone took offense about anything I wrote — but, well, that’s the nature of opinion writing. Or as my grandfather said, “that’s why we have horse racing.” Because we all have opinions that lead us to think we’re right and the other guy is wrong.

But to those who blasted me for putting my preference for showing manners ahead of her cause, for spotlighting what Gutiérrez did in the context of civility, and for deploring the disrespect she showed the president — for putting those things ahead of the need for action and for change, I’ve got a message for you:

You’re right.

I’ve pondered, read, watched, listened and listened some more to trans, gay, bi, lesbian (LGBT), people of color (POC), white allies, and cis queer women, who instead of spitting at me online shared with me some of the experiences they and people they know have endured. I learned how bisexuals were once again the victims of erasure and shook my head in disgust at those who blasted Gutiérrez for being undocumented, as if that invalidated her opinion.

I even considered the position of someone who is a vicious bigot herself, giving grief to people who don’t match her standards, who demanded I unfriend her on Facebook because of my opinion piece (by the way, who does that? Why not just unfriend me? Oh, right; if you do that, then you lose influence over the people I connect you to in my vast media universe. Ah.).

Well, I must admit, she’s right when she says Jennicet Gutiérrez is brave. I’m sure Gutiérrez is also compassionate and I’ll agree she is beautiful. There is no doubt in my mind she is selfless and I trust those who know her who have told me she is a good person.

The only area where this woman on Facebook and I disagree (not counting this woman’s derogatory opinion of late transitioners) is that she said Gutiérrez “asked the president.”

C’mon now, let’s not pretend: she didn’t ask, Gutiérrez demanded.

She did what Sylvia Rivera and countless activists and civil rights leaders and everyday people have done when given an opportunity: she stepped up and challenged authority. She stood up for those who have no voice. She spoke truth to power. She grabbed the spotlight away from the president to shove it — not on herself — but toward those who only want two things: to become American citizens and live authentically without fear or retribution or danger.

And I’m certain what Gutiérrez did provoked change that would not have happened otherwise. For that she deserves our praise and all the credit, and those who booed her should be ashamed of themselves, because in booing Jennicet they booed all trans people. I said as much in my Op Ed. I never called for Gutiérrez to be silent, nor silenced, but in focusing on the disrespect I believe now I did Gutiérrez an injustice, by not recognizing that for someone like her, there appeared to be no other opportunity. If you favor sports analogies, this was her shot, her one and only shot, and she took it. Or maybe that’s a sniper’s analogy, but either way, she took it.

And I will concede her doing so frankly makes me uncomfortable, because of my own history. That’s why what I wrote is my opinion, because it’s based on who I am. 

I was raised to mind my manners and to respect authority, to work within the system, to network among those with similar backgrounds and to use the proper channels for communication and in addressing authority figures and institutions. To my parents, protesters were “hippies,” radicals, undesirable.

Challenging authority in my house was met with a beltstrap, a spanking, a slap across the face. I was taught to turn the other cheek, and that to cry or to complain was to be weak.

I was raised to be obsequious, with white privilege and upper middle class privilege and male privilege.  I have been reminded of all this recently, very much so, to the point at which I am humbled to now say: I believe rude was right, in this circumstance.

Despite my habit of being snarky and having a smart mouth, I failed to rebel as a youth, and bring that perspective to my adult life. As a parent myself, I have distilled the strict disciplines of my birth family to become more forgiving in the family I raise, to be more loving, more considerate, more patient and more accepting of ways that are different. I have been an active participant in my unions and have used my skills as a journalist to bring truth to light and expose the excesses of power and corruption. I’ve been arrested, seen the inside of a jail cell, had my days in court, and I’ve endured misgendering.

And I’ve educated myself further over the past 48 hours, reading up, opening my eyes to better understand and appreciate and truly listen to those who are willing to take time to share experiences, without casting aspersions. So I can now say: my opinion on Jennicet Gutiérrez evolved.

I consider opinion and thought to be different things. To me, thought is a process, an evolution of ideas; opinion is the result of that process, but it is not an end product unto itself, because thought continues. And so opinion can evolve as well, given more information and perspective.

Thanks go out to my friends who are like-minded on the topic of civility, as well as to those whose opinions contrast with mine — who gave me the impetus to grow rather than denouncing me as a heretic, for having a contrary view.

I will not back down from my position — that it’s usually best to show respect and manners — and I don’t write this to win converts. I am still a believer in doing whatever your conscience tells you is the right thing, and I am one who tries to walk that line on the side of civility.

But I will concede I could have done a better job expressing there are always exceptions and extenuating circumstances.

I am a reasonable enough person to admit, as much as I wish she didn’t have to, Gutiérrez did the right thing in seizing what she saw as her only opportunity, no matter the cost to herself or to respectability. Making change is a dirty business, and it takes someone willing to get her hands dirty or her name sullied to make a difference. I am proud of Gutiérrez, and can say without exception that I support her actions that day.

With respect to those who won’t see my statement as anything other than eating crow, well, that’s your opinion. The difference between us is, I will respect yours.

I send you wishes of peace and solidarity for LGBT people everywhere — and for all kinds of people, everywhere — from the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love.

XOXO