“It’s okay, to be Takei.”

17 02 2015

Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala Dinner - ArrivalsIn the single digit, February air on Monday evening, I bundled up to walk with a friend to Butler University for their Distinguished Lecture Series on Diversity. The speaker was George Takei.

 

I knew very little about George Takei just a few years ago. I was not a Trekkie, nor would I have even known his name if not for his persistent quotes, memes, and video appearances all over Facebook-land. It was only when a friend’s post prompted me to look him up that I finally figured out, “who is this Takei guy?”

 

When I agreed to go to the lecture, I wasn’t really sure what he would talk about. He clearly still enjoys referencing his Star Trek days, but he’s also a very funny guy, and a strong advocate for LGBT rights. I also had read on Wikipedia about his childhood internment at the WWII Japanese-American camps, but wasn’t sure if this was simply a factoid, or something he actually still spoke about. I had no idea if this evening would address marriage equality or Starship Enterprise, whether it would leave me laughing or crying. In the end, it was both.

 

Japanese-american_childrenOver the course of an hour, George Takei shared his own personal biography, starting with his 5th birthday. He began with his vivid memory of his American family being rounded up at gunpoint in their home, to be loaded onto a train and shipped from California to the muggy, barbed-wire internment camp in Arkansas. He recounted the many daily ways that his mother and father were treated as “non-aliens,” their loyalty to their home country completely discredited. After being shipped to another camp for refusing to sign a paper swearing that he “revoked his loyalty to the emperor of Japan,” it took 4 years of imprisonment before Takei’s father was handed $20 and his family released, with nothing else left to their name.

 

JapaneseAmericansChildrenPledgingAllegiance1942-2George spoke eloquently about the irony of being trained as a child to pledge allegiance to the flag every morning, to a country that had frozen their bank accounts, seized their home, and destroyed their lives for 4 long years. Those words, “…with liberty and justice for all,” still seem to haunt him. As he repeated that chilling phrase in the large auditorium to us all, I could clearly see that this moment had set the tone for this man’s entire life.

 

Although I had learned about these internment camps in school, I had never heard anyone’s first-hand account. I couldn’t help but listen to his story and think, “how awful to have known this kind of hatred, so young, to have felt the very real threat of discrimination before you could even comprehend that you are different.” What’s more, hearing about Takei’s childhood helped me to understand why a man, so proud to fight for freedom, held so much fear in his heart when it came to his own truth’s being exposed.

 

George_Takei_(5777853681)George Takei knew he was gay at age 9, but was silent, as most were in those days. Even after he met his partner years later, and attended AIDS walks as ‘allies,’ he could not come out of the closet about his own orientation. It wasn’t until 2004, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed California’s approved marriage equality bill, that George finally found the courage through his anger to come out publicly. I don’t think anyone could accuse him of being silent ever since.

 

Hearing these stories reminds me just how much history I am living through, right now. How lucky I am to be alive TODAY. I wasn’t alive when Stonewall happened, but his words make me feel like I could have been there. I never lost a friend to AIDS, although my wife has lost many. I didn’t come out until I was 29 years old, and by that time, things were getting better for LGBT people in Michigan. I have never known, firsthand, the hatred and violence and discrimination that many of my LGBT ‘family’ have suffered through. I don’t have the same fear burned into my heart.

 

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Hearing George recount his life was amazing. These firsthand accounts won’t be here with us forever, and I feel lucky to have been able to hear about American history in the first person. It’s not just my admiration for him that grew, but my 1549530_808123595936933_3010165892456356179_nadmiration for ALL the people, gay, lesbian, trans, and allies, who fought for us. To be alive this year, in 2015, knowing that my marriage is now legally recognized by the federal government, and that SOON the Supreme Court will end this era of discrimination once and for all, fills my chest with pride, and my eyes with tears.


At the conclusion of the lecture, George stayed for a lengthy Q & A session. The two aisles on either side of the auditorium at Clowes Hall quickly filled up with excited listeners, eager to ask that one burning question of Takei. The second question came from a young man in his 20s, who was clearly nervous at the microphone. He thanked Mr. Takei, saying that we were all grateful for him being here, but especially him. Then he turned to his boyfriend, opened a small black velvet box with a ring inside, and he proposed. The crowd roared with applause, I was sobbing with joy, and my face was flooded with tears. I wiped my cheeks with both hands, wishing that my beautiful wife could have been there with me. She is the reason I came out of my own closet. She is the reason I have the courage to fight for equality. She is the reason I wake up every morning and feel like I am the luckiest person alive. While I am proud to be an active participant in changing our country, I hope that future generations can say, “I can’t believe your marriage was ever illegal,” and may they struggle to know this only from history books.26398_1410316064949_3457646_n

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