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Gay Times December 11 - Issue 400

Sir Ian McKellen

GT caught up with actor and activist Sir Ian McKellen, literally days before he jetted off to sunnier climes to film what will likely be two of the most iconic films of the decade, to talk about his life as one of the world’s most recognisable gay men.

In the spring of 1988 Gay Times interviewed Sir Ian McKellen for the first time.
It was a quietly iconic moment, and one that would in part cement him in one of his most widely celebrated roles - that of an out and proud gay man; and ultimately, albeit somewhat reluctantly on his part, a poster boy for gay rights.
“I was in two minds,” says he of his decision to appear on our cover some 23 years later, reminiscing aloud in an inevitably familiar voice. “Sometimes being on the cover of something gives you a prominence you haven’t earned.”
That interview was for issue 115 of Gay Times. Today’s is for 400.
It was at the age of 49 that, after years as a respected theatre actor, McKellen revealed his sexuality to the world. He’d been debating Section 28 on the radio; the Thatcher-government legislation that made the promotion of homosexuality in schools illegal, the very legislation that galvanised a new wave in the gay rights movement in this country, changing everything. Almost overnight McKellen became a relentless campaigner, something his first Gay Times interview and accompanying photoshoot (“I’ve got a raised fist, a blue jumper and a big grin on my face!”) celebrates.
I look at the issue in question as McKellen talks. It’s so exciting to think it directly preceded an era he quite rightly describes as a turning point for all of us. Indeed, even those of us too young to have known the 80s in all its lycra-clad, vintage Kylie glory...
“I sensed something was going to change,” he says defiantly, his tone always as commanding as it is soothing. “Gay people decided not to wait to be patronised by the law-makers. We were going to tell the law-makers what we needed.”
He later acknowledges he got on board with the movement with little time to spare. “I was a late convert to the idea that something could be done. What needed to be done was pretty obvious, in that there were far too many laws on the stature books that put gay people at a disadvantage. I’d grown up with them being there. Although they’d been tinkered with a little bit, so one sensed that the world could change.
“But it was a long time after that that gay people started to take on the job of changing the laws on their own behalf. And although many, many people were involved in that right across the spectrum, including many straight people of course, the crucial thing for us all was the reaction to Section 28.”

Words: Jamie Tabberer

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