8 times Sir Ian McKellen proved he's a true gay rights hero

The legendary actor turns 79 today (May 25).


As Sir Ian McKellen's turns 79 (May 25), what better way to celebrate than to sit back and reflect on the actor's achievements within the gay rights movement. Here's a list of the top 8 times our hero championed our cause:

1) Coming Out

Every story has a beginning, and Sir Ian McKellan's started in 1988 when he came out as gay on a live BBC radio interview. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (now defunct) had just been passed, prohibiting local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality or gay "pretended family relationships."

McKellen said this spurred his decision to bring his sexuality into the open, propelling him into a successful mainstream career.

"Everything in society was against people in my generation coming out because it was against the law to make love," he said in an interview with Charlie Rose in 2015.

"So if every time you have sex you remind yourself you're a criminal, that's not something you really want to talk about unless you're a really, really brave person, which I wasn't." We beg to differ, old boy.

2) Gay Pride


Fast-forward nearly 30 years and Sir Ian McKellen has been at the forefront of gay rights activism, leading Manchester's Pride celebrations in 2015 with thorough fanfare. 

Before this he's attended (and lead) numerous pride events across the country, and is a patron for both London and Oxford Pride.

In a BBC interview he said: "Onlookers can be impressed by our confidence and determination to be ourselves and gay people, of whatever age, can be comforted by the occasion to take the first steps towards coming out and leaving the closet forever behind."

3) The X-Men


X-Men was a gay man’s delight, because it was full of the most amazing divas,” said McKellen in an interview with The Guardian

The actor joined the X-men franchise in 2000 as metal-bending supervillain Magneto, and frequently drew connections between the movies and his gay rights activism in public.

The parallels were made clear in his interview with BuzzFeed: "Mutants are like gays. They are cast out by society for no good reason.

"And as in all civil rights movements they have to decide if they are going to take the Xavier line, which is to assimilate and stand up for yourself but be proud of what you are and get on with everybody.

"Or you take the alternative view, which is if necessary to use violence to stand up for your own rights.

"And that's true - I've come across that division within the gay rights movement."

4) Bromance


For a crash course on bromancing we need look no further than Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. 

The X-Men co-stars sent the internet wild these past few years, with adorable pics of them holidaying and just being generally silly.

If there's a positive message to come out of this, it's that the power of friendship conquers all prejudice.

5) Stonewall


Taking its name after the Stonewall riots in New York City, Stonewall has evolved into the UK's  leading LGBT rights charity, lobbying for policy development since 1989.

Sir Ian McKellen became one of the founding members of the group after seeking to lobby against Section 28 of the Local Government Act.

Looking back on Stonewall, McKellen said: "Nothing in life is more important to me than helping young people realise that there are better days ahead of them. "I'm proud that Stonewall – which I helped create to tackle legalised homophobia – is now leading the fight in those British schools where homophobic bullying ruins far too many young people’s lives.

"It's a privilege to play a small part in bringing it to an end."

The actor is still active within Stonewall, having surprised young activists by making an appearance at its Youth Awards this year.

6) 'Fuck off I'm gay'


In an episode of Have I Got News For You, Sir Ian McKellen recalled meeting with Environment Secretary Michael Howard to lobby against Section 28. Howard declined, but asked the actor to sign an autograph for his children.

The actor obliged and wrote: 'Fuck off I'm gay', instead. That's a good a middle finger as any.

7) International Affairs

Remember that time Sir Ian McKellen caused a Singaporean news channel to cut off his interview short after he asked where some good gay bars were? Neither did we. But watch - it's awesome.

8) India


In a visit to India to attend a film festival in 2016. Sir Ian made comments that criticised section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial law that effectively makes sexual relations between gay men illegal.

Ian said during his interview: “India is going through what the UK went through 30 years ago. It is appalling and ironical that India would use a colonial law to oppress its homosexuals.

“India needs to grow up. India needs to realise that it doesn’t need to follow British laws any more. But things are changing on other fronts. Kashish, Mumbai’s LGBT film festival, is a great example of that.” 

Like a fine wine Sir Ian McKellen just seems to be getting better with age - many happy returns!

Words: Andrew Headspeath