Trekkies Fight the Stigma

While some off-beat groups seek out the spotlight, others, perhaps unfairly, have a reputation that precedes them. For Starfleet International Inc., an association for fans of “Star Trek,” the science fiction television series that spawned movies and spinoff series, the biggest meeting planning challenge is overcoming the “stigma of the Trekkie,” according to Michael Malotte, a volunteer who heads up the association and whose official title is Commander, Starfleet.

“People sometimes don't take you seriously,” he says. “Fighting the stigma of the geeky person that lives in their mother's basement and has never been kissed is kind of a standard thing for the Trekkie.” Indeed, Starfleet has raised its fair share of eyebrows when booking hotels over the years. “We have people that look at you and say, ‘Oh, my God. What have I walked into?’ and other people who say, ‘This is pretty cool.’” But after 30 years, the Starfleet group has become less of a novelty. Some hotels, like the Kansas City (Mo.) Airport Marriott, where Starfleet has held its convention three times, get into the spirit of the convention by having staff wear Spock ears.

Each year, the convention destination is selected based on a theme. Last year it was held in Charlotte, N.C., in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. This year, as we went to press, the convention was to be held in Birmingham, Ala., at the end of July. The theme: “Journey to the Land of the Vulcan.” No, not that kind of Vulcan, but the Roman god of fire and forge, whose statue overlooks the city.

The Birmingham Marriott is hosting the meeting, with attendance expected to be between 200 and 300, which is about average. The guest speaker is Lee Shackleford, a professor at the University of Alabama and former writer for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” William Shatner (James T. Kirk), and Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), two Star Trek captains, have not yet made appearances at the group's annual convention, but actors such as Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and George Takei (Sulu) have attended over the years, Malotte notes.

A volunteer-driven, nonprofit association, Starfleet boasts 4,000 members and 250 chapters around the world. More than half of the chapters donate to local charities, and this year proceeds from the national convention will benefit the Ronald McDonald House, says Malotte. “You pretty much name the charity and someone's probably raising funds for it.” They also have a scholarship program for up to 10 members (or their families) each year to offset the cost of college tuition.

“We have our reality-challenged members,” concedes Malotte, who, when he is not at the Starfleet helm, is technical support manager for Gateway Computers in Kansas City. While some fans do show up in full Klingon regalia and other costumes, many are more subdued and go for the camaraderie.

“It's more of an association of friends,” he says. “People who have been brought together with a common interest.”