Ian McKellen is regarded as one of the greatest British actors of his generation but in recent years he’s gained a great deal of attention for his social activism. McKellen was known to be gay by his fellow actors early in his career but didn’t come out publicly until 1988. After gaining worldwide popularity for his Oscar nominated turn in Gods and Monsters and roles in the Lord of the Rings and X-Men films, McKellen became a 60-something-superstar and suddenly had an enormous platform from which to voice his beliefs.
McKellen co-founded Stonewall, an LGBT rights charity based in the United Kingdom named after the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969. Stonewall has become the biggest gay equality organization in Europe. They work to lobby for LGBT rights and have succeeded in preventing the passing of oppressive laws and influencing measures for equality. In 1988, Stonewall was at the forefront of the fight against Section 28, a controversial addition to a British law that prevented local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”. The vague and harmful amendment stirred controversy in the United Kingdom and got many involved with the gay pride movement. While debating the issue on the radio, McKellen first publicly declared himself to be gay.
While Ian McKellen’s organized efforts for equality have been vast and successful, perhaps his most effective activism is simply being himself. He will often drop statements into interviews and appearances that serve to call attention to important LGBT issues without making a grand political gesture. His practice of ripping out hateful verses from hotel bibles is an often-shared anecdote and he once caused controversy by asking a for a gay bar recommendation from TV host in Singapore. Sir Ian McKellen’s immense talent and sharp wit have made him a pop culture icon, but his fearlessness and quest for equality make him a treasure to the LGBT community.