WILSON in ETRO Orange Suit Jacket and Pants DAVID YURMAN Curb Chain SKY GEMS Pearls; ANTHONY in LOUIS VUITTON Damier Vest and White Button Down Shirt DAVID YURMAN Box Chain Necklace and Small Fluted Chain Necklace
Star Trek has always imagined a brighter future. There’s no money, racism, or homophobia. It’s a better planet — and galaxy — than what we have now. At the same time, the show has pushed forward progress in the real world. The original 1966-1969 series featured the first kiss between white and Black characters on TV: Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) and Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).
With a smooch between partners Dr. Hugh Culber and chief engineer Paul Stamets — played by, respectively, Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp — Star Trek: Discovery took the franchise’s long-held values to new frontiers. They’re not only the first two gay lead characters on a Star Trek show; now, four seasons in, they’re a part of one of the best queer families on television. And they’re showing LGBTQ+ fans that their futures are bright as well.
Cruz, 48, has been playing gay characters for nearly three decades. His first TV role was as Rickie Vasquez in ABC’s My So-Called Life, which made him the first out gay actor to play a gay character in a leading role on U.S. prime-time TV. Even though he’s been portraying gay characters for such a long time, Cruz has no interest in stopping.
“I never understood the worry that people have for me when they’re like, ‘Well, aren’t you afraid that you’ll just play gay roles for the rest of your life?’ And I’m like, ‘Why is that something I should be afraid of?’” he laughs. “Tom Cruise isn’t sitting around crying if he only has to play straight roles. So why can’t I be excited about always playing gay roles?”
Rapp, 50, has also been out since early in his career. He first made his name on Broadway, playing Mark Cohen as part of the original Broadway cast of Rent (which Cruz later joined). For Rapp, the decision to work as an out actor was an easy one. “The stakes are just too high for me, not just for me personally, but for all of us in our society, in our world,” he says. “Visibility makes a difference, it’s unquestionable. The whole reason that progress has happened is that so many people sit up and demand to be seen.”
WILSON in ALEXANDER MCQUEEN Grey Tuxedo Jacket and Tuxedo Pants @POLLYSPROPS Necklace
This love of playing gay characters and being vocal and visible as gay men is what makes them perfect for their roles on Discovery. Who better to show the world what a gay future can look like than two people who have already changed it?
This is the fourth season that Rapp and Cruz’s Discovery characters have beamed into international television sets; the show launched in 2017. In that time, their Star Trek family has grown to include new queer roles played by the first trans and nonbinary actors in the franchise’s history. Adira (Blu del Barrio) is the first nonbinary character on a Star Trek show, and their partner, Gray (Ian Alexander), is the first transmasculine character in the franchise. On Discovery, Adira and Gray have formed tight bonds with Hugh and Paul, proving that even hundreds of years in the future and light-years away, queer people will gravitate to found family. Due to their newfound paternal roles, the gay husbands have even been dubbed “space dads” on social media.
ANTHONY in LOUIS VUITTON 1.1 Millionaires Sunglasses DAVID YURMAN Small Fluted Chain Necklace and Madison Pearl Necklace LOUIS VUITTON Monogram LV Toile Military Jacket, Classic Short Sleeve Pique Polo, Chino Pants LOUIS VUITTON Oberkampf Ankle Boot
“It was a great gift when Blu came on the show,” Rapp says. “I’m thrilled to be in a position to be kind of a father figure to Adira [alongside] Hugh. And then to get to make real Gray’s actual presence — which is such a wonderful metaphor for being fully known and seen — that’s just a great next step in the evolution of our little queer found family.” (Season 4 spoiler: Gray was presumed dead, but his consciousness had actually psychically bonded with Adira’s; he was only made visible to others with a corporeal transference made possibly by future technology.)
“It’s a love letter to all of the chosen families throughout history that we call the LGBTQ+ community,” says Cruz. “We’ve always created these families, these support networks, and I think this is Discovery’s way of saying, ‘We will always need each other.’ It’s important to surround yourself with not just the people who you’re born to but with people who see all of you, who appreciate all of you, celebrate all of you.”
Rapp says that showing Paul and Hugh as a long-term couple who have their ups and downs and disagreements is another important step for representation. Just as Star Trek is about depicting the work it takes to make a better future, Paul and Hugh are demonstrating the work needed to have a better relationship.
“There’s a scene this season where there’s an issue on the ship, and there’s some disagreement with how Paul responds versus the rest of the family unit,” Rapp says. “Within this disagreement, there’s also this sense that everyone respects and loves each other, so they can have a disagreement in a safe manner.”
“Paul and Hugh have been together for a long time and have gone through a tremendous amount and have earned a really strong sense of mutual respect and trust that is really important and meaningful to be able to represent on-screen,” Rapp continues. “Hopefully, it’s a kind of role-model couple that’s not meant to be all shiny and perfect. It has little edges and corners that show up, but we make it through and we support each other.”
This family unit doesn’t just exist for their characters. “Off-screen, that same feeling of family is prevalent for all of us,” Rapp says. “We have this deep connection [with Blu and Ian], and Wilson and I feel incredibly protective of them and supportive of them. But also, they’re really modeling for us what it means to advocate for yourself. They’re part of the younger generation of actors who are agitating and pushing the boundaries and demanding to be seen and heard, and not putting up with the status quo.”
While Discovery is in a distant future, Rapp and Cruz can look around at the present to see the better world they’ve helped build in Hollywood. Discovery’s co-showrunner is Michelle Paradise, a lesbian, and there are several other out actors in the cast, including Tig Notaro, Mary Wiseman, and Emily Coutts. It’s a different Tinseltown from when Cruz started.
WILSON in ETRO Orange Suit Jacket and Pants MORPHEW Rainbow Fringe Vest
ANTHONY in ALEXANDER MCQUEEN Graffiti Oval Sunglasses, Blake Illustration Dante Jacquard Coat, Ivory Wool Serge Cigarette Pants, Tread Slick Boot DAVID YURMAN Box Chain Necklace, Small Fluted Chain Necklace, Forged Carbon Faceted Band Ring
“I think back on My So-Called Life, on anything, on the first 20 years of my career, and I was usually the only queer person around, and how debilitating at times that could be,” Cruz says. He has the opposite situation on Discovery.
“I think when you have that, especially when you’re an artist, it frees you,” he says. “It allows you to go to all of those places that you need to go to, to do the work and not feel hampered or judged or shamed. When you’re working in an environment that’s supportive and sees you and celebrates you, you’re going to bring all of your talents to bear without hesitation.”
These out actors also get to see the fruits of their labors when they interact with fans. And that, they both say, is the best part. “It’s an honor to inspire, to allow people dream a bigger dream for themselves. What moves me is when people are like, ‘I see you on Star Trek and I’m proud of the queer Latino nerd I am,’” Cruz says.
“Let’s have more queer nerds, man, that’s what I say,” he laughs. “So many of us are not allowed to be nerds. If you’re a nerd then people are like, ‘You’re denying your Latinidad.’ Or because you’re a nerd you can’t be Black? It’s crazy!”
In fact, Cruz thinks no one is better suited to be a nerd than queer people of color. “Nerds are people who are excited about things that are marginalized, like math or science, or like being creative or not going with the crowd or creating your own lane,” he says. “And if I’m helping some queer Latino kid or queer person of color imagine and be accepting of his nerddom, that’s the cherry on top. Because I think when we allow ourselves to understand that we can be part of something like science and math, I think we will change the game just by our very presence in it.”
“At conventions, it’s always really moving when I’ll see some Puerto Rican kid dressed up like Culber and saying he wants to be a doctor one day. That’s the whole game right there,” he continues. “That’s why I do what I do, to inspire people to understand that they deserve to live up to their potential. And I see them. I’m truly in awe of them. These are really smart kids, people who are allowing themselves to dream a big dream for themselves, and that’s inspiring to me…. I make this show for this queer community and people of color and their intersections. That’s who I think about.”
Four years ago, The Advocate asked these two actors where they’d like to see queer representation in Hollywood go, and Cruz had no hesitation in saying he wanted to see nonbinary and trans people take center stage. Now that future he hoped for is real on Discovery. And he hopes the fact that it’s real, and that the show is so successful, can inspire change in Hollywood.
WILSON in CHRISTIAN DIOR Pink Classic Suit Jacket @POLLYSPROPS Necklace MORPHEW Pants
“When you watch this show, I hope you realize that you’re seeing something that is not the majority of the experience of television viewing,” Cruz says. “You are seeing an entire cast of people of color and queer people and a majority of women in lead roles. That this amazing, action-filled, heart-beating show is populated by people of color and queer people and marginalized groups that normally aren’t given these opportunities — and they’re hitting [it] out of the park.”
Rapp hopes that people in the entertainment industry will watch the Paramount+ show and see infinite opportunities for representation and storytelling. “I think that there are way many more ways to have nonbinary and trans characters centered in ways that aren’t just about coming out and aren’t just about transition,” he says.
“When you look back on the history of just gay stories, Brokeback Mountain is a story that was very meaningful and is a bridge to help straight people really understand what it’s like to live in the pain and cost of living in the closet. At the same time, I think that it’s been made abundantly clear that there are many more stories to be told about the gay experience,” he adds. “Similarly, I think there are so many more trans and nonbinary stories that also deserve to be told.”
Star Trek: Discovery is ever so boldly jumping right into a future where everyone can be a doctor, a scientist, hero, or a nerd, and can find family no matter where or when they are. And because of this groundbreaking cast and crew, the future they envision is closer than ever.
Star Trek: Discovery returns to Paramount+ on February 10.
Talent ANTHONY RAPP @albinokid1026 & WILSON CRUZ @wcruz73
Creative Director BEN WARD @_benjaminward_
Photographer JAMES WEBER jamesweberstudio.com @james_weber
Styling MINDY SAAD @mindysaadstylist for celestineagency.com @celestineagency
Grooming DAMIAN MONZILLO using R&CO, MAKEUP FOREVER, SEVEN HAIRCARE and CHANEL @damianmonzillo for @celestineagency
Videographer JESÚS BAEZ @baez_photo
Location HUDSON YARDS LOFT New York, NY
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Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp are among the cover stars of Out's January/February 2022 issue, a special LGBTQ+ Star Trek edition appearing on newsstands February 22. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.