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Q&A: George Takei on Canada as an LGBT rights leader and meeting with PM Trudeau

In this May 4, 2016 photo, actor George Takei waves to the audience as he approaches the podium to present a talk at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Virginia. The "Star Trek" icon has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and sees Canada as pioneering in the equality movement.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-The Roanoke Times, Erica Yoon
May 21, 2016 - 9:00 PM

TORONTO - The branches of George Takei's family tree extend to Canada with relatives in Toronto and Ottawa.

But the American actor and activist's love for the United States' northern neighbour takes root beyond his aunt and cousins.

The "Star Trek" icon has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and sees Canada as pioneering in the equality movement.

He will be a part of Pride Toronto festivities with "An Evening with George Takei," a lecture and Q&A session at Ryerson Theatre on June 26.

"Canada has always been at the lead," said Takei in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.

"Certainly with marriage equality, Canada led the way."

While the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states last year, LGBT rights have remained a point of contention in Takei's home country.

One of the most widely publicized cases has involved protests over a North Carolina law widely seen as discriminatory to LGBT people. The law states that transgender people must use bathrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings as well as in public schools and universities.

In May, the Obama administration told public schools across the U.S. that transgender students should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

Reached in Los Angeles, Takei spoke about why he's coming to Canada for Pride, his thoughts on LGBT discrimination, and his chance meeting with Justin Trudeau before he became prime minister.

The Canadian Press: What are you most looking forward to about coming to Canada for Pride?

George Takei: Canada has been at the leadership of equality for LGBT people, so this is an opportunity for me to thank them for having spearheaded the equality movement for LGBT people.

Last year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled for marriage equality. However, this year, we are getting the backlash from that major step forward. The people that want to discriminate are using what they call "sincerely held religious beliefs" and trying to write that into civil law which cannot be done.

They talk about religious freedom. Well, it's not just their freedom. We're a pluralistic society of many, many different faiths. And no one faith can write their faith belief into civil law that applies to everyone. This has to make its way through the courts. Now, that's the battle we're fighting.

Plus, another new battlefield is — of all places — the bathroom. They're using the fear of pedophiles in bathrooms to ban transgender people from answering Mother Nature's call (in bathrooms of the gender with which) they identify.


CP: Why is this bathroom issue all of a sudden becoming a point of contention?

Takei: It's those people that are just simply unwilling to accept the reality of the existence of transgender people.

Fifty-one years ago, (U.S.) president Lyndon Johnson signed the voting rights bill. We thought that was a major achievement (for) African-Americans to get the vote. Still, to this day, 51 years later, we're still fighting all of the barriers that are being put up to access the voting booth in places in the South, and certain places in the Midwest.

This is the same sort of thing. People that just refuse to see beyond their own prejudices, and want to inflict their prejudices on the people that they want to discriminate against.


CP: Justin Trudeau is going to be the first sitting Canadian prime minister to take part in Toronto's Pride parade. What are your impressions of him?

Takei: I've been a fan of (former) prime minister Pierre Trudeau. He was a glamorous prime minister that you had. I remember (him) with a little boy. And that little boy has now grown up to be Justin Trudeau whom I met in Toronto, as a matter of fact, some years back at a television studio. And here he is now as the prime minister.


CP: What kind of conversation did you have with him?

Takei: He was coming from an interview and I was going into an interview, so it was very abbreviated. But I was thrilled to meet him. He's a dashing young man. He wasn't the prime minister then, but I saw the charisma that would most certainly take him to higher office. And, sure enough, there he is now.


Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.

— With files from The Associated Press.

News from © The Canadian Press , 2016
The Canadian Press

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