I was very happy with ‘The Outcast’…I thought Jeri [Taylor] did a marvellous job on the script and to me this was the turning point of the season and this was where I thought we started doing excellent television again. We had been the target of a concerted organized movement by gay activists to put a gay character in the show. What it came down to was Roddenberry had been barraged by letters and had discussed with us before his death the possibility of having two men hold hands in some scene, which was totally irrelevant to the issue of homosexuality. I didn’t think, nor did Rick, that was an appropriate way to do a story that addressed the issues of sexual intolerance, which I felt was really what the broader issue was about. And so that’s what we decided to do, and we decided to tell a story about sexual intolerance.Michael Piller, quoted in Captains’ Logs: The Complete Unauthorized Trek Voyages by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, 1995.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad they did “The Outcast” (here’s my episode review). But I don’t think having an episode that projected homophobia onto an alien species was mutually exclusive from showing gay characters, even in the background.
TOS had episodes where they used alien species to talk about racism, but they also showed that in the future, humans will have overcome racism and everyone will be included. They did that by showing characters of colour.
However, the TNG creators (and those of later series) seemed mostly not to realize that what was needed was not just allegorical shows about intolerance, but also positive examples of tolerance. If we get more Star Trek, I hope the people behind the scenes realize that lesbian, gay, trans* and gender-variant humans need to be more visible – otherwise they’ll be showing us a future that’s behind the times.