‘Star Trek’ actor Takei shakes up perceptions for parents and kids

Actor George Takei, star of the original 'Star Trek' series and a pop-culture icon finding new fans from today's social media audiences, is helping parents and kids understand that a person's whole life – not just one element – defines them.

Diane Bondareff/Invision for Cunard Line/AP/FILE
Actor George Takei and director Jennifer Kroot host an exclusive screening of his biographical documentary, 'To Be Takei,' on board Queen Mary 2 while in port at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Monday, July 28, 2014, in New York.

Actor George Takei is a social pioneer who has brought an Asian cultural influence to television on “Star Trek” as well as being an engaging spokesperson for LGBT. No matter where a parent stands on issues raised by the actor, it’s valuable to share his bravery, good humor, and his family’s story with kids.

You don’t have to be a child of the 1960s to know who Mr. Takei is and what he represents culturally as both an Asian-American and an openly gay man.

In fact, thanks to the power of the Internet to erase time and space boundaries, many children and teenagers are just discovering the works and life of the man who played the original Mr. Sulu on the 1960s show “Star Trek.”

Over the past decade Takei, through some very savvy social media work on Twitter (@GeorgeTakei) with 1.27 million followers, Facebook, and YouTube has become a cultural icon with an entirely new generation of followers.

Because my home is wall-to-wall “Star Trek” fans, Takei became a topic for family discussion in our house back in May 2011 when our sons Avery who (12 at the time) and Ian 16 (at the time) came together to point out a video the actor posted on YouTube.

Takei used his rapier wit to combat the Tennessee Legislature and its "Don't Say Gay" bill. The bill would have prevented teachers from discussing homosexuality with students.

The first thing the boys said was that they were shocked to learn that the actor, who personified a Bruce Lee-like fighter and cool helmsman on the original “Star Trek” series was gay.

We talked about the big picture of life and how every person, regardless of shape, color, size, or orientation is really just another piece that helps to form the big picture.

We also discussed the difference between actors and the roles they play.

Now, with the documentary film on his life, “To Be Takei,” there is another opportunity for family discussion of the actor’s life. This time it contains a powerful set of lessons on history, family, and resilience.

The film, which was hailed at Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of how, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Takei family was among the 127,000 Americans of Japanese descent forced into internment camps.

Takei has also done a powerful TED Talk on “Why I still love a country that once betrayed me.”

This week, Takei told Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air program about his earliest childhood memories when he was 5-years-old and taken to be housed in the horse stables at Santa Anita racetrack because the camps weren't built yet.

"And then [we were] put on railroad cars with armed guards at both ends of each car and transported two-thirds of the way across the country to the swamps of southeastern Arkansas. There [were] barbed wire fences there — tall sentry towers with machine guns pointed at us," Takei told Ms. Gross.

I think it’s important for our kids to see that someone can suffer through such a massive upheaval, sadness, and misfortune to grow up to be a cultural pioneer with wit, fun-loving spirit and be an inspiring person.

In a world where unfortunately the word “gay” is still a playground slur, it would be nice to have more parents help defuse that kind of emotional attack.

We can do that without getting bogged-down in discussing a person’s sexuality, but by introducing our children to the fact that there is more that defines a person than their sexual orientation.

By celebrating people for what their lives are as a whole, we can help kids to take that step toward inclusivity, and help them to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go forward on a mission of acceptance.

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