Ian McKellen
The Lord of the Rings, X-Men

Sir Ian Murray McKellen, (born 25 May 1939) is an English stage and screen actor, the recipient of a Tony Award and two Oscar nominations. His work has spanned genres from William Shakespeare and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction. He was made knighted in 1991 for his outstanding work and contributions to the theatre.

Gay rights work

While McKellen had made his sexuality known to his fellow actors early on in his stage career, it was not until 1988 that he came out to the general public, in a programme on BBC Radio 3.[1] The context that prompted McKellen's decision — overriding concerns about a possible negative effect on his career — was that the controversial amendment known popularly as "Section 28" (see below) was under consideration in the United Kingdom Parliament of the United Kingdom.[1] By this time, McKellen's ten-year relationship with Sean Mathias had ended, removing the additional concern of what effect his coming out would have on his partner's career. McKellen has stated that he was also influenced in his decision by the advice and support of his friends, among them noted gay author Armistead Maupin.

In 2003, during an appearance on Have I Got News For You, McKellen claimed that when he visited Michael Howard, the Conservative Environment Secretary, in 1988 to lobby against Section 28, Howard refused to change his position but did ask him to leave an autograph for his children. McKellen agreed, but wrote "Fuck off, I'm gay."[2]

The amendment in question, Section 28 of the Local Government Bill, proposed to prohibit local authorities from promoting homosexuality 'as a kind of pretended family relationship'. The drafting was open to several interpretations and the actual impact of the amendment was uncertain. McKellen became active in fighting the proposed law, and declared himself gay on a BBC Radio programme where he debated the subject of Section 28 with the conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne. He has said of this period: "My own participating in that campaign was a focus for people [to] take comfort that if Ian McKellen was on board for this, perhaps it would be all right for other people to be as well, gay and straight".[3] Section 28 was, however, enacted and remained on the statute books until 2003. In the intervening period McKellen continued to fight for its repeal and criticised British Prime Minister Tony Blairfor failing to concern himself with the issue.

McKellen has continued up to the present to be very active in gay rights efforts. He is a co-founder of Stonewall, a gay rights lobby group in the United Kingdom, named after the Stonewall riots. McKellen is also Patron of LGBT History Month, and GAY-GLOS, formerly known as Gay & Lesbian 'Friend' Helpline (Gloucestershire).

In 1994, at the closing ceremony of the Gay Games, he briefly took the stage to address the crowd, saying, "I'm Sir Ian McKellen, but you can call me Serena." (This nickname, originally given to him by Stephen Fry, had been circulating within the gay community since McKellen's knighthood was conferred.)[3] In 2002 he attended the Academy Awards with his then-boyfriend, New Zealander Nick Cuthell - possibly a first for a major nominee since Nigel Hawthorne, the first openly gay performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, who attended the ceremonies with his partner, Trevor Bentham, in 1995.

In 2006, McKellen spoke at the pre-launch of the 2007 LGBT History Month in the UK, lending his support to the organisation and its founder, Sue Sanders, a personal friend. A video of his speech is available in the external links below. On the 5th January, 2007 McKellen became a patron of The Albert Kennedy Trust an organisation that provides support to young, homeless and troubled Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered people.


  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named actors
  2. 10 things we didn't know this time last week. BBC News. 14 November 2003.
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named advocate-2001
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