Sir Ian McKellen said he feels he came out at “just the right time” in a new interview with Charlie Rose for his eponymous PBS program this week.
The 76-year-old actor came out 27 years ago when he was 49 to speak out against a bill in British Parliament that would have made the “promotion of homosexuality” illegal, one of his first of many actions as an LGBT rights advocate.
Related: Sir Ian McKellen Urges Hollywood Actors To Come Out: “A Closet’s A Really Nasty Place To Live”
On his decision to lend his support in the beginning stages of what we now know as the LGBT rights movement, McKellen said:
“A law was being passed I didn’t approve of which disadvantaged gay people, and that’s when I came out. And it was just the right time for me, because, 49, I was confident as an actor, as a person. And I could organize a sentence and make a case and feel passionate about it…there was a part for me to play within the gay rights movement in the UK and I loved it, I relished it. Acting was involved of course, but acting the truth. And then I felt a better person all the way around.”
McKellen then reminisced about the time — 1988 to be exact — being hugely different than the times we live in today.
“I wish I’d felt able to come out earlier,” he said, implying that wish doesn’t mean regret, as he had good reasons for remaining closeted during a volatile time for LGBTs.
“Everything in society was against people of my generation coming out, because it was against the law to make love. So if every time you have sex you remind yourself you’re a criminal, that’s not something you necessarily want to talk about unless you’re a really, really strong and brave person which I wasn’t, so I got on very comfortable with my life as an openly gay man without ever talking about it. And most people don’t have to but if you’re in the public eye there comes a time when it’s appropriate.”
Later in their conversation, McKellen told Rose about a time not too long ago (six or seven years) that he was called to the private school once attended by Alan Turing, the WWII codebreaker who was arrested for being gay and chemically castrated before his death in 1954, to “handle” a group of gay students.
The story serves to remind folks about the struggles LGBT people confront in the face of ignorance, and how homophobia isn’t as rare today as one might think. Check it out below: