5 Times Ian McKellen Was an Advocate for the LGBT Community

The out actor and activist turns 79 today, May 25.

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.

  1. He came out publicly to defy homophobia

    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.

  2. He co-founded Stonewall U.K.

    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.”

  3. He backed a teen-led LGBT equality initiative

    Nick Harvey/WireImage

    In 2010, McKellen offered his support of Liverpool’s Project Triangle, a teen-run anti-homophobia initiative from LGBT arts and culture group Homotopia.

    “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.

  4. He encouraged closeted actors to come out

    Antoine 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.”

  5. He called out Hollywood for a lack of representation

    Alisa 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.”

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.