TELLY LEUNG: I want to talk about how your early experiences in the internment camps influenced the way you view yourself as an Asian-American and as a gay man. How has that experience affected your advocacy for equal rights?
GEORGE TAKEI: The internment happened when I just turned five years old and we were incarcerated until I was nine years old — the duration of the war.
When I became a teenager, I became very curious. What I read in the civics books about the shining ideals of our democracy and what I knew to be my childhood — childhood imprisonment [was different]. So, I had many long, after-dinner conversations with my father about it, and I learned about our democracy from my father, who in the middle of his life, in his 30s, lost everything. As I was growing up, I became an activist, in terms of civil liberties and civil rights issues, and I became an activist in the political arena as well.
But throughout my years of activism, I was silent about the one issue that was closest to me — the fact that I'm gay. I was passionately in love with acting. I wanted to be an actor. And I knew I couldn't be an actor [at that time] and be hired as an actor, if people knew I was gay.
I saw the two parallels: My childhood imprisonment and the criminalization of gay people [at that time]. And because I wanted my career, I was silent on it.
You came from a very different, traditional Japanese home. Did you find it difficult coming out to your family?
My father passed before I had the gumption to come out. And to my mother it was a little difficult. She is a traditional Japanese-American woman, but she knew Brad [Takei's now-husband]. When I was talking about my being in love and with Brad, it was specific, not an image, not a flaming cartoon — so that made it easier for mother.
Why all of sudden in 2005 [did] you say, "Okay, it's time for me to come out now?"
Well, society was changing. In 2004 the Supreme Court in the state of Massachusetts ruled that marriage equality was constitutional. It was a landmark event. But the year after that, in 2005, the California legislature, this time, took the legislative route, not the judicial route [and] the people's representative passed both houses, Assembly and the Senate… All it needed was a signature [from] our governor for it to become a law —
It was Arnold Schwarzenegger at the time, am I right?
Yes. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But he was a Republican from the right wing party and true to his base, he vetoed that bill. And my blood was boiling. That night, Brad and I were at home watching television and the late night news came on and we saw young people pouring out on Santa Monica Boulevard venting their rage [and] we were at home comfortably watching television and so we talked about it and that's when I decided that I had to vocalize on it and I talked to the press for the first time as a gay American. Now you're a gay role model for so many of us. How does that feel?
I've been an advocate for social justice and equality, the Civil Rights Movement, for the peace movement during the Vietnam War, and then the movement to get an apology and redress for the unconstitutionally incarceration during the Second World War and so, it's a continuum. But here's a new way of vocalizing called the Internet and social media. So why not? The reason I picked up [Facebook and Twitter] primarily was — we had Allegiance in development. It's still today a little known — too little known — part of our American history, and here we are investing a great deal of our energy, our talent, our resources in a project that people know very little about and so we had to raise the awareness and, ultimately, the understanding of that chapter in American history…. And so that's how it began. My social media campaign to get the word out on Allegiance. And it's worked.
I think we're going to get a lot more people to see it — every night — this fall, my friend.
On the biggest and most important stage in America: Broadway. Isn't it grand?