43 Gerrard Street E., Toronto
June 26, 2016, 7:00 pm
by David Fujino
I live in downtown Toronto, right in the heart of the gay village — Boys Town. To me, it’s home, it’s distinctive, and not always deserving of the broad homophobic smears that routinely come its way.
Even today, the village functions as a convenient place for detractors to point at — it’s a place to heap scorn upon the rights and freedoms, indeed, the very humanity of its inhabitants; a place where detractors feel free to unload their own unexamined sexual discomforts and insecurities; and it’s a place where resolutely straight folks often say they don’t want to live. But why? Likely because they’re afraid to be labeled gay by association. Sigh.
Bounded by streets like Church, Yonge, Carlton, Wellesley, and Gerrard, the inhabitants in this village are — in reality — a mix of gay and straight. Think about it: Toronto hasn’t defined this area as gay. (In fact, many of the historical street signs say, Garden District.) This village serves as a ‘controversial’ slice of Toronto. Really that simple.
But confidently striding into all of this unacknowledged homophobia, George Takei’s visit to Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre — situated on Gerrard St. East — came at the right time and the right place. On a June 26 evening, during Pride Month, Takei first spoke to a mostly gay ticketed audience about growing up in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, and further chronicled his subsequent decades of growing involvement in the fight for equality and human rights which started in the late 60’s and 70’s. At one point, Takei mentioned that he’s met and spoken with Martin Luther King twice, is on close terms with Hillary and Bill Clinton (he openly supported Hillary as the next President of the United States from the stage) and, as a highly successful actor and now superstar darling of the online world, he spoke about how he eventually decided to take his life experiences onto the lecture circuit. (Note: The first 500 tickets were available online for FREE in a gesture of true community spirit at PrideToronto.com/George.)
There was a bracing dignity and rationality to Takei’s 37-minute lecture, which was mostly free of the numbing rhetoric that is usually served up at partisan affairs, but rather than pander to the crowd, Takei stayed on message — for he was nobody’s gay darling. (He married Brad Takei in 2008.) Takei primarily spoke as a social justice and LGBQT rights activist and as a book author and star of his Broadway musical, Allegiance, which is based on his family’s experiences living in internment camps during World War II. And, of course, he was hugely famous and appealing because of his role as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the popular television series, Star Trek. It often helps to be a celebrity.
Further, Takei praised Canada as a leader in LGBQT matters and cited some facts about equal rights and human rights history — ‘in 2003 June, Canada had marriage equality for same-sex couples; in July 2003, B.C. had marriage equality; and in 2004, Quebec had marriage equality.’
The 5 year old Japanese American boy who was interned in some of the most extreme and God-forsaken places like the deserts of Utah and Arizona was now tonight’s poised and thoughtful star lecturer on human rights and the fight for equality, as he lived it.
In Takei’s lecture, he made no direct appeals for audience sympathy in his interpretation of significant dates and events in his personal life and the social life of the United States. He consistently told it the way it is. In many ways, the lecture was a history lesson. When an audience member asked who his LGBQT heroes were, he answered a couple of times in a row: “Harvey Milk and Hillary Clinton … President Obama,” because they’re committed supporters of LGBQT equality.
These days, society is being asked to quickly process new information such as same-sex couples’ demand for the right to marry the person they love; Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s recent updating of the Grade school curriculum to include sex education on STD’s; and the pursuit of equal rights for those transitioning into a gender different from the gender they were born into. At one point, Takei pointed out that the use of washrooms is presently a raging hot issue in many states in America. (Sidebar: Today, it’s generally acknowledged that gender identity and sexual desire are more fluid than many of us had previously realized.)
But the lecture wasn’t all clenched-jaw serious. The final Q&A portion of the evening brought out the active entertainer gene in Takei who noted that more and more of the media keep referring to him as “Takai”, whereas the correct pronunciation of his name was “Takei”. Then he quipped that in Japanese, “Takai means ‘expensive’ — but Takei doesn’t mean cheap!” The audience roared with laughter. Suitably, Takei’s final farewell was, “Boldly go!”
If you’ll allow me, the following autobiographical information is reproduced from the internet: George (Hosato) Takei was born on April 20, 1937, at Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California, to his mother, Fumiko Emily Takei, and his father, Takekura Norman Takei. As an actor, Takei’s breakout role was as Sulu, but in recent years Takei has also become a social media phenomenon, with over one million Twitter followers, and counting. Takei’s bio says he’s “unofficially dubbed the King of Facebook”, and if you look at the 6.7 million “likes”on his page, the claim seems legitimate. In the 2007 documentary, To Be Takei, he discovers that he’s probably the only person on the planet who can say he has an asteroid named after him. “I am now a heavenly body … I found out about it yesterday … I was blown away. It came out of the clear, blue sky — just like an asteroid.”
Lastly, here’s some more notable and quotable George Takei comments also culled from the internet:
– “Star Trek is a show that had a vision about a future that was positive.”
– “In many ways, my decision to come out changed the course not only of my personal life, but
of my professional one as well. As a visible spokesperson for equality, I was no longer simply
‘that guy from Star Trek’ but one of the few out, and outspoken, gay actors of the time.”
– “I was the best helmsman in the galaxy!”
– “I think we learn more from those times in our history where we stumbled as a democracy than
we learn from the glorious chapters.”
– “Yes, I remember the barbed wire and the guard towers and the machine guns, but they became
part of my normal landscape. What would be abnormal in normal times became my normality in