Sir Ian McKellen is more than a Tony and Golden Globe-winning actor: The X-Men and Lord of the Rings star is also a vocal LGBT advocate, standing up for queer representation in film and LGBT rights around the globe.
In honor of McKellen’s 79th birthday, we’re highlighting five times the actor advocated for the queer community.
He came out publicly to defy homophobia
I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including myself. Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest. Today is the 30th anniversary of the BBC radio discussion when I publically said I was gay. So I’m celebrating!
— Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen) January 27, 2018
Though McKellen was reportedly out as gay to theater colleagues early in his career, he didn’t publicly come out until 1988.
His choice to come out was in defiance of Section 28, a controversial U.K. law that prohibited local authorities from “promoting homosexuality.” McKellen became a vocal opponent of the legislation—and outed himself during a BBC radio spot to bolster his points.
He co-founded Stonewall U.K.
Remember #Section28? It’s been 30 years since the government introduced legislation to stop local authorities promoting homosexuality. Were you a teacher, librarian or youth worker in the public sector? Did Section 28 affect the way you worked and lived? Share your memories now – it could feature in the next issue of our magazine. Email email@example.com if you'd like to share your story.
In 1989, McKellen helped co-found Stonewall U.K., an LGBT advocacy group named after the famous Stonewall Riots in New York.
“The revolution won’t be complete until equality is accepted at home, at school, at work, and in the streets,” he told the group in a statement. “So we must continue to support Stonewall’s essential initiatives, knowing right is on our side.”
He backed a teen-led LGBT equality initiativeNick Harvey/WireImage
“I fully support Homotopia’s determination to tackle the violence which defaces the reputation of Liverpool as a friendly, inclusive community,” McKellen wrote in a statement, much to the delight of Homotopia executives, who thanked him for his praise.
He encouraged closeted actors to come outAntoine Antoniol/Getty Images for Cannes Lions
In a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, McKellen offered some reassuring advice to closeted actors who might be considering opening that door.
“Do you want to be a famous movie star who has love scenes with ladies and in private be an unhappy gay?” he asked. “There’s no choice. Forget the career, dear. Go and do something else… A closet’s a really nasty place to live, you know? It’s dirty, it’s dusty, it’s full of skeletons. You don’t want it. Open that door. Fling it wide and be yourself.”
He called out Hollywood for a lack of representationAlisa Molotova/Getty Images
Earlier this month, McKellen used sarcasm to call out Hollywood’s lack of gay representation in an interview with TimeOut London. “Nobody looks to Hollywood for social commentary, do they?” he quipped. “They only recently discovered that there were black people in the world. Hollywood has mistreated women in every possible way throughout its history.”
“Gay men don’t exist,” he added, “…even though half of Hollywood is gay.”