The promise of queer representation in Star Trek was delayed for too long by the death of visionary founder, Gene Roddenberry. Even still, the franchise has done more than most shows to open doors for LGBTQIA+ stories and representation on television. Since it’s Pride month, it seems like the perfect time to take a look at some of the most memorable Star Trek episodes with queer representation or storylines.
The Next Generation S3E16 – The Offspring
Airing in March of 1990, “The Offspring” is particularly important in Star Trek history as the franchise’s first overt exploration of gender fluidity and gender issues. Centring around Data’s quest for humanity, the episode has him procreate by constructing a child that he can raise and parent.
What is truly groundbreaking about this episode is that Data makes the conscious choice to allow his android child to choose its own gender. Even today, the idea of allowing children to choose their own gender is controversial and unacceptable by mainstream society. However, over thirty years ago Star Trek helped start a public conversation around childhood and gender that is becoming an increasingly important LGBTQIA+ issue in today’s modern world.
The Next Generation S5E17 – The Outcast
TNG’s second dive into gender issues was also the franchise’s first episode with non-binary and androgynous representation. “The Outcast” presented the J’Nai as an alien species with only one androgynous gender. No males, no females. The very idea of gender is taboo in their society.
Soren, a J’Nai shuttlecraft pilot, and Commander Riker work together to devise a rescue plan for a ship stuck in a pocket of null space. Soren reveals to Riker that despite the lack of gender in J’Nai society, they feel like a woman, and are (big surprise) attracted to Riker. The two have an affair that leads to the forced purging of Soren’s gender identity.
The episode feels a bit disappointing for the viewer who is rooting for Soren in her gender nonconformity. However, the ending is a poignant allegory for the oppression that LGBTQIA+ folks endure when we are forced to hide our true selves and remain “in the closet.”
Deep Space Nine S3E25 – Facets
“Facets” makes the list as an example of what Star Trek shouldn’t have done; a step backwards in the progression of the franchise’s queer representation. Quark embodies one of Dax’s previous female hosts in a ritual that allows Jadzia to have conversations with the embodied memories of previous hosts. Through the ritual she gets to know them, and thereby, herself, better.
Quark’s embodiment of one of Dax’s previous female hosts was an opportunity for Deep Space Nine to look closely at gender fluidity, and gender as a social construct. Unfortunately, all we got was a quick minute or so of Quark talking in a high pitched voice about the joys of raising children, which couldn’t be more stereotypical. Even worse, when Quark finally gets his body back he immediately acts ashamed and rather aggressively insists his temporary experience as a woman be kept a secret.
Rather than celebrating infinite diversity in infinite combinations, this episode sends the unfortunate message that men being feminine is something that isn’t socially acceptable.
Deep Space Nine S4E5 – Rejoined
If this list were in order of pop culture significance rather than air date, then this episode would be at the top. Airing in 1995, “Rejoined” is etched into TV and LGBTQIA+ history as the first same-sex kiss on Star Trek, and only the second to air on a fictional US television show.
The Kahn symbiont, to whom one of Dax’s previous hosts was married, comes aboard the station. Upon arrival, we discover that the Kahn symbiont, like Dax, is now in a female body. Jadzia Dax and Lenara Kahn are unable to hide the love they still feel for each other, even though relationships with past-life lovers are strongly discouraged among joined Trill. Eventually, Dax and Kahn give into their passion; and their kiss causes quite an uproar from Lanara’s brother.
Aside from the historical mark made by the episode, it has a wonderful lesson as well: Love doesn’t know boundaries of sex and gender, regardless of how hard society tries to implement and enforce such artificial walls.
Deep Space Nine S7E12 – The Emperor’s New Cloak
A mirror universe episode, “The Emperor’s New Cloak” perhaps came closer than any previous Star Trek episode to queer representation among Star Trek’s main characters; until the new era of Trek TV. The mirror universe version of Ezri Dax made it clear she wasn’t interested in men. The obvious implication was that she’s a lesbian.
Unfortunately, it was the mirror universe and a potential story arc that ended with the closing credits of that one episode. The Star Trek fandom had to wait another eighteen years—when the new era of Trek television began—to see Roddenberry’s promise truly fulfilled.
Enterprise S2E22 – The Cogenitor
This episode is worthy of mention because after a gaping absence from Voyager storylines, LGBTQIA+ stories—and at least momentary representation—made a brief one-off return in this one episode of Enterprise. It’s essentially a remake of TNG’s “The Outcast,” so there isn’t much to say. The Voyager and Enterprise years were marked by a lack of LGBTQIA+ storylines and characters, even more so than was usual for 1990s era Star Trek. It was essentially a return to the The Original Series standard, where the issue generally didn’t seem to exist for the franchise.
Discovery S1E1&2 – The Vulcan Hello & Battle at the Binary Stars
Thanks to sites like startrek.com, by the time Discovery’s two-part inaugural episode debuted in 2017, the fandom was already well aware that the series had made significant queer representation in the franchise a reality.
Announced first, Anthony Rapp’s character Paul Stamets has the technical distinction of being the first openly gay regular character on a Star Trek series. That announcement was quickly followed by that of a second gay character. Hugh Culber (played by Wilson Cruz) would make up the second half of the first openly gay romantic couple on a Star Trek show. Both characters have become fan favorites over the first three seasons of Discovery.
The characters are significant as the first regular gay couple and characters in the Star Trek franchise. Yet, that isn’t their only significance. Often on TV shows, minority character representation is a matter of tokenization. You get one person of color in an otherwise all white cast, or one LGBTQIA+ person in a cast of cis, straight characters. Discovery is by no means the first show to include multiple gay characters, but its cast is truly diverse, and it’s one of the shows that is breaking from the tokenization that is still all too common on television today.
Discovery S3E1 – The Hope Is You, Part 1
Season three of Discovery took the show’s breakaway from token representation even further with the addition of Star Trek’s first non-binary and trans characters. The first episode of season three introduces non-binary character Adira (played by Blu Del Barrio) and a trans character named Gray (portrayed by Ian Alexander). The new characters brought the show’s total number of LGBTQIA+ characters up to four–almost a third of the show’s regular cast of fourteen. There are still regular characters on the show whose sexuality we know little and never know anything about. So that percentage could, theoretically, be even higher. Either way, Discovery has proven its dedication to fulfilling Roddenberry’s promise of queer representation. This show is taking it seriously, and doing it right.
Picard S1E10 – Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2
Blue Skies played in the background as Picard watched Data fade into memory. The scene cut to Dr. Jurati reaching down to kiss Cristóbal, and then panned down to the lower level where Seven of Nine and Raffi sat talking, laughing, and holding hands. Their fingers entwined, playing in a way that can’t be mistaken for anything but flirting. We don’t know much else at this point; and the new character development certainly has fans of both Picard and Voyager eagerly awaiting season 2 of Picard.
The episode makes this list for two reasons. One is that it puts to rest any remaining doubt that the creators of the new era of Star Trek television are committed to significant and intentional LGBTQIA+ representation in the franchise. Second, it rectifies the glaring gap in Voyager’s complete absence of even allegorical queer representation or storylines.
When it was announced that the new character Seven of Nine would join the cast of Voyager in season three, rumor abounded that the character would finally bring Roddenberry’s promise of a queer character. Fans and writers had been campaigning for LGBTQIA+ representation since the late 1980s. This was the perfect chance. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. That makes it all the more fitting that those at the helm of Star Trek’s new era have used Seven’s character in Picard to rectify that mistake.
Looking back, even though most of the franchise’s series have had episodes that used allegory to address queer issues, it’s still clear enough that Star Trek has struggled to bring proper LGBTQIA+ representation into the open. However, the new era of Star Trek that began with Discovery is more than making up for the slow start. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.