Actor Melissa Navia is living in a paradoxical world. Thanks to her role as Lieutenant Erica Ortegas on “Strange New Worlds,” she’s enjoying the love and popularity that only “Star Trek” fans can offer. At the same time, she’s dealing with the loss of her partner. Brian Bannon died in December of 2021, and Navia has been in mourning since.
It is this juxtaposition of sadness and exhilaration that Navia finds herself in.
“I’m in the throes of grief, and I don’t know if you know anything about grief, but, especially if you lose your partner, you suddenly feel like you cannot do anything,” Navia told Heavy in an exclusive interview. “It [gets] to the point where it’s like… I’m sitting there [and] I don’t even know how to pay bills.”
“It’s a dark period in my life which is also a really bright period,” said Navia.
Navia on Grief
Like many people in the public eye, including her castmates on “Strange New Worlds,” Navia is active on social media, especially on Twitter. Friends in the entertainment industry cautioned Navia not to get too involved or to learn to ignore negative comments, but she chose a different path.
“I feel like if you [give in to the opinion that] Twitter’s a cesspool, well, then it remains a cesspool,” said Navia. “I find that Twitter is like life. When you surround yourself with good people, and you surround yourself with intelligent people, you surround yourself with people who make you think differently about something that maybe you hadn’t considered before — that can help you become a better person, right?”
Navia’s character is known to fans as a member of the Enterprise crew who is tough, intelligent, and spirited. Lt. Ortegas is confident in her role and makes others around her laugh. An illustration of this humor happened early in the season when Ortegas fooled Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) into wearing her dress uniform to a casual dinner hosted by Captain Pike (Anson Mount).
Ortegas Fooling Uhura
In a way that makes her character stand out, Lt. Ortegas sports a futuristic hairstyle, which Navia says was her addition to the character (as she detailed in this Twitter post). Due to this hairstyle, which some fans on Twitter call “badass,” Navia has received some negative feedback.
“I go online, and I see a very, very small fraction of trolls and haters, immediately making judgments about Ortegas based on her haircut,” said Navia. “They start immediately making judgments based on, you know… all the whistles of like, ‘NuTrek’ and ‘woke.’”
“The outfits I wear on Season One that aren’t my amazing uniform — I would wear,” said Navia. “So whenever people go after my bosses, I’m like don’t go after my bosses. I’m like, you have an issue with Ortegas, you have an issue with her swagger, you have an issue with her confidence — come to me, and we’ll have a discussion about it.”
It is this attitude that Navia confronted one individual on Twitter who attacked Lt. Ortegas’ hair and implied that the character was hiding something. The attitude of this person upset Navia, who responded.
“She came for me, and she came for people who identify with me, and then it turned out that she was really truly a homophobe and the embodiment of bigotry,” said Navia. “She was professing [anti-LBGTQ beliefs] on a public forum.”
Navia said that this person has since deleted all the anti-LBGTQ tweets and comments about Lt. Ortegas, but fans can check out details of the July 16, 2022, Twitter exchange in this Bleeding Cool story by Ray Flook.
“She used slurs, and she basically said that she doesn’t associate with gay people because that’s what her religion says,” said Navia, who noted that she is also a Christian. “Here comes this woman with the, with the purple cross in her in her bio, saying, ‘I don’t want to say what I think she is. I can’t say the word, but we all know what everyone’s doing.’”
Navia With Gig Patta of LRM Online
“I’m seeing this, and my first thought really was to all of the people who have reached out to me and send messages and say, I see myself in Ortegas,” said Navia. “And that’s regardless of how they identify or because of how they identify. That’s across ages, across, across geography, across generations of people who have loved ‘Star Trek.’”
Navia said that she could have just ignored the person who was trolling Lt. Ortegas, but she chose to respond.
“I wanted to call it out, and I felt okay, calling her out because she was posting it publicly,” said Navia. “Some other trolls, just a few of them, [said] ‘It’s cyberbullying. Melissa was engaging in cyberbullying.’ No, I’m calling out homophobia and bigotry.”
Navia said that she feels that interacting with fans and others online, there must be a level of respect. She said that when disagreeing with someone online or in real life, she sticks to logic and the Socratic method.
“I was just basically asking her to explain what she meant; what is it about Ortegas that she immediately assumes to be negative?” said Navia. “Many people and my core group of amazing fans have been the queer community, the LGBTQ community, the trans community.”
“I’ve been queer-coded my whole life, you know. That’s how I came out of the womb,” said Navia. “That’s me. I never want to speak for the community, but I will always fight for them. If they ever want me to speak for them, or I’ve given that honor, it’s for them to tell me to do that. Because I know what it’s like to have bigoted, homophobic, and racist people [around] because oftentimes, they’re all kind [from] the same gene pool. I’m at a point now where I can speak. I can make noise. I have a platform.”
Navia said that while she reads every message sent to her Twitter account, she does not have time to respond to everyone. Additionally, she said that she does not have the energy to spend on similar disagreements with every anti-LGBTQ person on social media.
“It wasn’t [about] her,” said Navia. “I immediately felt like everybody who looks up to Ortegas sees themselves in Ortegas. And if I let comments like that just go by and say it doesn’t affect me, I know it affects a lot of other people. So this whole idea of ‘don’t shine the spotlight on [negativity]’ works, sometimes you do in order to make a point.”
Twitter Can Still Be Fun
Navia said numerous times that this incident was an example of a tiny minority of folks who attack the “vulnerable.” Navia said that she will always stand up for what she believes in but also noted that nearly all her interactions with “Star Trek” fans have been incredible. In fact, the hosts of the Open Pike Podcast recently hosted Navia on their show, and Navia’s hair even has its own fan-operated Twitter account.
She said some of her favorite memes are the comparisons between Pike’s hair and her own. On Twitter, she posted that her hair “looks up to Pike’s hair.”