Ian McKellen Launches Program to Help Other LGBTQ Elders

"I was criminalized, and that can leave a sort of brand on you—you never really get rid of that."

Getting older doesn’t have to suck.

Sir Ian McKellen recently announced his involvement with a new program supporting LGBTQ people over the age of 50.

McKellen has partnered with the LGBT Foundation, a Manchester-based charity, to launch its new Pride in Ageing campaign, which aims to “end the inequalities” faced by LGBTQ people who grew up in the U.K. when being queer was considered a crime.

“I can remember a time when the number one rule, if you were LGBT, was never to talk about it, because you were breaking the law,” he told the BBC. “And although the laws have changed, attitudes haven’t altogether.”

The Pride in Ageing initiative will work to combat the social isolation faced by those queer elders who, having come of age before the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967, have experienced significant discrimination and hostility.

“I was criminalized, and that can leave a sort of brand on you—you never really get rid of that,” the Cats star explained. “You want to feel that you are surrounded by at least friendship and, on occasions, love and respect, and all those things can be missing if people slip back into the old attitudes that they were brought up with.”

“We know that LGBT people over 50 are at a much higher risk of isolation and are under-recognized in health and social care services, and may be facing discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Paul Martin OBE, chief executive of LGBT Foundation, in a statement. “We believe that all LGBT people over 50 have the right to an excellent quality of life in later years, and look forward to working to end the many inequalities that LGBT in mid-to-later life face.”

“The work of Pride in Ageing will help policymakers much better understand and meet the needs of older LGBT people when it comes to important issues like housing, health, and social care,” adds Councillor Brenda Warrington, Greater Manchester’s Lead for Ageing and Equalities.

“There was no mention of sexuality other than heterosexuality at school, on the radio, in church,” McKellen recalls of his upbringing. “Absolute silence. So is it any wonder that people who are older, when things are hazy, they may think back to a time when things were different?”

The celebrated 80-year-old actor may be best known to mainstream audiences as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films and as Magneto in the X-Men franchise, but he’s also an outspoken activist who has played an integral part in advancing LGBTQ rights in the U.K. and abroad.

At 48, although he had yet to discuss his sexuality with his family, McKellen came out as gay during a BBC radio interview in 1988 to criticize Section 28, a British law prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality.”

This marked the first of McKellen’s many actions as a vocal LGBTQ rights advocate; the following year he became a founding member of the activist organization Stonewall, which campaigns for gay equality.
 Section 28 was finally repealed in 2000.

“I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out—including myself,” McKellen tweeted last year, celebrating 30 years as an openly gay actor and activist. “Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest.”

While promoting his documentary, McKellen: Playing the Part, McKellen noted that he would like to be remembered more for his activism than his acting.

“I’m very proud of my small contributions to changing the law in this country and changing attitudes, all for the better,” he said. “And I suppose in the scheme of things that is more important and the more merit and longer lasting than any acting that I have done.”

Celebrity interviewer. Foodie and Broadway buff in Manhattan. Hates writing bios.