Page 2 of 3
"It all just became part of the landscape," Takei says now. "A child is amazingly adaptable, and what can be seen as grotesquely abnormal in normal times became my normality.
"Although I remember, with quite a bit of irony, starting school in that camp every morning by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I could see that barbed wire fence every morning as I recited those words: 'With liberty and justice for all.'"
It wasn't until Takei was a few years removed from the camps that he started to question his childhood incarceration. He began talking to his father, Takekuma "Norman" Takei, about what had happened and what, if anything, he was supposed to do about it. His father told him that the government was only as great and as fallible as its people were. It was a citizen's responsibility, he advised, to be engaged in the democratic process.
And so from a very young age George Takei spoke about his imprisonment in an effort to educate the American people. He also became engaged in electoral politics. Shortly after one of his talks with his father, the elder Takei took young George to the Los Angeles headquarters of Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign—"My father was a great admirer of Adlai Stevenson," says Takei—and signed him up as a volunteer.
"Although I supported Stevenson, and he lost," says Takei. "Then I worked for Jerry Waldie for governor of California, and he lost. Then I supported George Brown for the U.S. Senate, and he lost. So when I was asked by our city councilman Tom Bradley to head up his Asian-American committee, I said to him, 'Are you sure? I have been the curse of loss for so many candidates.' But finally with Tom Bradley, we won, and he became the first African-American mayor for the city of Los Angeles—and the only mayor to serve five terms."
Yet even as Takei tirelessly championed social justice issues while his acting career progressed, he avoided public battles for the very cause that was probably the closest to his heart: LGBT rights and equality.
- OH MYYY!M George Takei’s dominance on Facebook and Twitter is rivaled only by his popularity at Trekkie conventions.
As a young actor working in Hollywood, Takei decided to keep his life as a gay man secret. Today, he matter-of-factly says his decision was "the reality of the times."
"I was deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement," Takei says. "But when it came to LGBT issues, I was silent throughout the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s, because I was pursuing a career as an actor.
"In television, you want ratings, in movies, you want box office. And unfortunately at that time, the feeling was you wouldn't get any of that if you were known as a gay actor. Early in my career, I was a young, no-name actor going up for part after part and getting rejected time and time again because you're too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, too Asian or not Asian enough. To be out as an actor—well, you weren't really an actor at all because you couldn't work."
Hiding something so important to his happiness was tough for Takei, who recalls an ever-present fear of being exposed as living a double life. He would be seen in public with female friends at parties and openings one night, while frequenting gay bars the next.
Oddly enough, it was another actor who helped him make the decision in 2005 to come out from under that cloak. Both houses of the California Legislature had approved marriage equality legislation, and all it took for ratification was the signature of then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Takei says despite the fact that Schwarzenegger was a Republican, he still expected him to sign the bill.