TORONTO - Former "Star Trek" actor George Takei has reasserted his stance that next year's Winter Olympics should be moved from Sochi to Vancouver due to Russia's "horrific" and "homophobic" anti-gay laws.
The 76-year-old, who is gay, says he was "outraged" by the law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, which outlaws "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to children, threatening so-called offenders with prison sentences, hefty fines or, in the case of foreigners, deportation.
Takei says the law has given "licence to the thugs and the hooligans, who then felt free to attack anyone that they deemed to look gay or lesbian." And Takei warns that giving Putin an Olympic platform will only increase his support and lead to "other horrific, oppressive things."
"We've gotta learn from history," Takei said this week in a telephone interview from his California home. "In 1936, the Olympics committee granted the rights to stage the Summer Olympics in Berlin. Three years before that, Hitler came to power and he got a law passed which seemed innocuous at that time: Jewish professors could not get tenure.
"But then the international stage was offered to him and he gloried in it, and it raised his status and gave him more power amongst the German people. And his campaign of horror began and you know where that led.
"Putin is a former KGB guy, and now he's president of Russia, and he got this — some people say it's innocuous, I think it's horrific — propaganda law passed, homophobic propaganda law passed. And now we're offering him that same international stage, that same international spotlight.... I think we need to take the Winter Olympics away from Russia."
Takei has thrown his support behind an online petition urging the International Olympic Committee to relocate the Feb. 7-23 sporting spectacle to Vancouver, which successfully held the last Winter Games in 2010. The petition has attracted roughly 160,000 signatures.
Beyond the fact that the West Coast city still has its gleaming Olympic facilities intact, Takei feels it's appropriate because he says Canada is an international beacon for LGBT rights. Takei, who has family and history here with an aunt and cousins scattered in Toronto, Ottawa and, until recently, Vancouver, notes that the 2010 Games even had an Olympic Pride House to celebrate athletes of all sexual orientations.
"You're a leading state in terms of equality and justice," he says of Canada, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. "You have been the leader and in many ways inspirations for us. The various steps forward that you've made — the U.S. is catching up in your footsteps."
Takei, who will appear at Fan Expo Canada Aug. 23-25 in Toronto and at Montreal ComicCon Sept. 13-15, will watch closely as the International Olympic Committee meets Sept. 10 to elect a new president. He argues that Russia is breaching the Olympic charter's stance on human rights, and that the IOC subsequently has "a right and responsibility" to take the event away.
He's aware that many have called the proposed shift to Vancouver unrealistic, and says that if there isn't enough time, then the IOC should consider postponing the Games for a year until a suitable location can be prepared.
He muses on an even less orthodox solution.
"The Russian athletes could be disqualified from participating. How humiliating that must be for Putin — to have the Winter Olympics in Russia with Russian athletes not participating because of their egregious violation."
Takei was originally moved to advocacy in the aftermath of then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to veto the first California same-sex marriage bill in fall 2005. Takei watched the news that night with his now-husband Brad Altman, and decided he needed to go public with his sexuality — which to that point had been a carefully guarded secret.
"Here we were, Brad and I, at home comfortable in our living room — and my blood was boiling."
Takei was out less than a month later.
He says that friends in Hollywood knew that he was gay for years, but stayed silent on his behalf.
"People in show business are sophisticated people — they know," he said. "At the wrap parties every Friday night, people bring their husbands, their wives or boyfriends or girlfriends. I used to bring my beard, a girlfriend. But then I brought a buddy along. And I seemed to have a buddy more often than I had my girlfriend. And they got it. But they were also sophisticated enough that if they made it known, it would jeopardize my career. So it was that silent acknowledgment."
Takei is tickled that he'll be joined at Fan Expo Canada by Zachary Quinto, another openly gay actor who portrays the stoic half-Vulcan Spock in the rebooted "Star Trek" film franchise.
"The world has certainly changed when we can be who we are and still maintain a career," he says. "I was in deathly fear. My career would have ended if I were out at that time."
Now? Takei's mellifluous voice is in hot demand, his honeyed tone working its way into countless animated projects (including "The Simpsons," "Adventure Time with Finn & Jake" and the upcoming star-studded film "Free Birds") and earning Takei the position of the "official" announcer of "The Howard Stern Show." (A chuckling Takei insists upon the scare quotes).
He's also put in cameos on "The Big Bang Theory," "The Neighbors" and "Hawaii Five-O" while being sure to serve his constantly growing herd of social-media followers (which he accomplishes with help from Altman, whom he calls his "pillar.")
Looking back, he realizes that coming out did not sound the death knell of his career — but actually revitalized it.
"My career took on new momentum," he says.
Now, he says it's not just Trekkers excitedly approaching him at the conventions he frequents, but a separate group of admirers who are similarly enthused to meet him.
"There's a lot of LGBT people who come up to me or us as a couple and they thank me for my advocacy," he said. "It's expanded my fanbase enormously."