When the Starship Enterprise finally continues its voyage this week, the loud and proud contingent of LGBTQ+ Star Trek fans will see something very special: themselves, represented in the 23rd century.
“I love that we’re premiering during Pride Month,” actor Melissa Navia tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, speaking ahead of the Season 2 launch of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds June 15 on Paramount+. “I feel like our poster is about that, too,” she adds. Promotional advertisements and videos prominently feature rainbow coloring and graphics, much to Navia’s delight. “I don't know if that was on purpose, but I’m going to go ahead and say it was!”
On Strange New Worlds, Navia plays Erica Ortegas, the pilot of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Star Trek prequel series is set in the future, but also the past; the adventures take place in the 2200s, but it’s several years before those depicted in the original series from the 1960s, when Sulu (George Takei) served as helmsman under William Shatner’s iconic Capt. James T. Kirk.
When Strange New Worlds launched last summer, Navia was asked by Variety about her character’s androgynous appearance and demeanor. “I like that we’re approaching it in a way that nobody bats an eye. Like, they shouldn’t, right? Everybody should be a bit queer,” she said. “I know I give off this wonderful queer energy. It’s just been a part of who I am.”
Almost a year later, Navia tells us she “absolutely” stands by those statements, and the community.
“Throughout my career, the trans and LGBT community have been just such rock stars for me, in terms of people who love what they see in me. They love what I bring to the screen and what I bring to characters,” she says. “The fact is, gender [fluidity] plays almost inherently a part of me and always has. So whenever I’m cast in things, I think people somehow see that. [The LGBT community] have been absolutely my biggest fans.”
“I’m queer,” says actor Jess Bush, without hesitation, speaking about both her own life away from the TV screen and on the Paramount+ streaming series. “I am so delighted that there's more representation for all expressions of sexuality and gender in Star Trek. That’s really exciting to me, and I’m really proud to be a part of that representation.” The Australian native returns as Nurse Christine Chapel, who in this incarnation is an openly bisexual character—but still with the hots for Spock.
“I would like to see [sexuality and gender] explored more for Chapel and for anyone else who’s on the show,” said Bush. “That is something that I think the fandom really appreciates, and it’s also a direct reflection of our society right now. The increased visibility and the increased acceptance of queer folk is something that's being celebrated a lot right now, but is also threatened a lot right now. There’s a lot of violence towards people who are queer.”
Bush was alluding to incidents like the Glendale, California, Board of Education meeting that erupted in a brawl between anti-LGBTQ+ and pro-LGBTQ+ demonstrators this month. And as The Daily Beast has reported, far right extremists have been targeting schools that show support for queer students. Bush mentions how, throughout its history, Star Trek has addressed current conflicts through science fiction storytelling, from war to racism and, more recently, LGBTQ+ and nonbinary inclusion.
“I think Star Trek has a certain power that could be used to fight that [violence],” she said. “I urge the [producers] to do that with the writing. I think it’s an opportunity for them to really step up and stand behind our queer fans.”
Those fans have long fantasized—and composed reams of fan fiction—about a potential romance between Star Trek’s original lead characters, Kirk and Spock, shipping them as “Spirk.” Paul Wesley plays a young Jim Kirk on Strange New Worlds, while Ethan Peck, the grandson of the legendary actor Gregory Peck, wears the famed pointed ears this time around.
“I do think one’s relationship with another actor offscreen, or your general chemistry, does actually translate onto the screen,” Wesley says. Spock meets Kirk for the first time in Season 2, and Peck says their foundational friendship was key to that scene.
“It really added a lot of nuance to that moment, the momentous moment that these two characters meet,” Peck says, after which Wesley deadpans: “Can we get ‘Spirk’ tattoos?”
Celia Rose Gooding is breaking ground in Strange New Worlds, not just as the first actor to portray communications officer Nyota Uhura since the death of the trailblazing Nichelle Nichols, but also as the first queer actor to play the role.
“As an out queer person, as someone whose relationship with their gender is ever-evolving and ever-changing, it is so exciting to be a part of this, especially playing a role that has been originated by cis women and has historically only been played by cis women,” Gooding says, adding that she is humbled to be trusted with Uhura’s story.
“To the trans and nonbinary queer community, know that there is an entire cast of people who want to do right by y’all and want to represent y’all in a way that is human and true and beautiful and lovely. And to have your support means the moon and beyond to all of us, but especially to me, because I am someone who has learned the most about myself from queer people, and as someone who is myself every day and has to show up as myself to play this character,” Gooding says.
“It just means a lot to me to be a part of this and to be just a small piece of an incredibly delicious franchise pie and have my little queer stamp on it and say, ‘A queer person was here and reprised the role and made sure that everyone knew that this person is here and is proud to be a part of this community and has a role to play in Star Trek.’”
Rebecca Romijn, who fans may recall as Mystique in the first three X-Men movies, plays a character who was hiding a terrible secret that was exposed in the first season. The revelation resulted in her arrest in the season finale, and she will go on trial in the second episode of this second season. Romijn’s character is Una Chin-Riley, an “augment,” meaning she is the result of genetic engineering, which is banned by Starfleet and the Federation. She is the Enterprise’s first officer and Capt. Pike’s “Number One.”
Given that Romijn also previously played a trans woman on TV’s Ugly Betty, we asked her if she saw a parallel between her characters’ experiences and the way society treats trans people as outcasts.
“It's like these three characters keep coming back in my life and I love it,” Romijn says. “Even though we have this utopian, futuristic world in Trek, sometimes we still grapple with these very human issues like prejudice and persecution. That episode really puts the spotlight on that. I think that the message that Una wants to send is, just because I can hide doesn't mean I should have to. And I would like to think that's what a lot of trans people feel like, too.”
Romijn also shouts out Jesse James Keitel, the out trans actor who played a nonbinary villain in a groundbreaking Season 1 episode directed by a trans woman, Sydney Freeland. “Having that episode with them, with Jesse James Keitel, she was so amazing on our show. We just can’t wait to figure out a way to bring her back.”
It’s clear that the stars of Strange New World know how powerful and how radical the show’s LGBT+ representation is.
As an active user of social media, Navia has heard from queer fans, asking about her character’s love life. “I know people want to see more of Ortegas in terms of her relationships and what I would say to that is, ‘Just hang on. Hang on for sure!’” she says. “I can't wait to see what fans and especially the trans and LGBT community continue to see in Ortegas. And hearing from them also inspires a lot of what we then bring to the role. So, thank you to them and, yeah, Pride month: Let's do it!”