National treasure and blockbuster actor Sir Ian McKellen paid a visit to Brighton this week to spread an important message, sharing his stories of his struggle with homophobia with students from Brighton College.
The Lord of the Rings star came out as gay during a BBC radio interview when he was 49, and said the decision to live openly in regards to his sexuality made him “immeasurably happy”.
He highlighted the progress made in recent years before saying: “But when I was young, society was very different. The silence around homosexuality was deafening. There were no books in the library I could look things up in, no mention of it in school, there were no Clare Baldings or Graham Nortons to show it was normal. And there were no places to socialise if you were gay except members’ clubs where if you showed affection for someone of your own gender you could find yourself being arrested and thrown in prison if the police arrived.
“I don’t think I have ever recovered from that. It is a scar that comes from rejection and shame that you feel about yourself. The law is telling you that you are wrong.”
The X-men actor told the audience chose his career as a healthy escape which he’s used to turn his life around. “I took up acting and doing that I could be whatever I wanted to be,” he said, “I could express emotions. That’s why a lot of professional actors are gay – they are trying to make something positive out of what used to be seen as something negative.”
Sir Ian is now an ambassador for Stonewall, an LGBT-rights charity which discovered that almost nine out of ten secondary school teachers had witnessed homophobia in their workplace. Brighton College seems to be more forward-thinking than most; it took the decision to scrap its hundred-year-old dress code in 2016 in a bid to accommodate transgender and non-binary students, a move praised by Sir Ian during his visit.
He urged the students to embrace each other’s differences and to create “a model society” where all are accepted regardless of their race, gender, and sexuality.
Speaking to Juice, Headteacher Richard Cairns said: “If children are happy and feel like they can be themselves, then they will achieve their potential. Sir Ian’s message was clear: Don’t treat anyone with less respect than you would like to be treated yourself. Accept that we are all different. Embrace that difference. And then discover how much more interesting everything is. Or as he might have put it: you shouldn’t live your entire life as an actor on someone else’s stage. You can be your own director, producer and performer.”
— Stonewall (@stonewalluk) January 27, 2017
Sir Ian pays regular visits to so-called ‘champion’ schools as part of Stonewall’s School Role Models scheme, which sees famous LGBT faces chatting to pupils.
Featured image by David McHugh of Brighton Pictures.