Sir Ian McKellen: ‘Coming out is the best thing that any gay person will ever do’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Sir Ian McKellen has hailed the power and importance of gay people coming out and said that actors should not worry about it harming their career.

Sir Ian made the comments as the host of the 2017 Stonewall Youth Awards – the same event he appeared at last year as a surprise guest.

“It is the best thing that any gay person will ever do,” Sir Ian said of coming out.

The Lord Of The Rings and X-Men star added that he would love to have written on his tombstone when he dies: “Here lies Gandalf. He came out.”

Praising the young people who spend their time campaigning for LGBT rights, Sir Ian talked about the fears people face when coming out.

Sir Ian McKellen at the StoneWall Youth Awards

He said: “When coming out everyone is always frightened about somebody else, ‘What will my mother think?’.

“Actors think, ‘Will I ever work again if people know that I am gay?’.

“Yes, is the answer. It was only when I came out that I got cast as Gandalf and Magneto.”

Sir Ian noted that many people who were the first in their field to come out increased their popularity after doing so, citing rugby player Keith Keegan Hirst and MP Chris Smith.

“People like honesty, you know where you are when somebody comes out to you,” he said.

Most of the young campaigners at the awards were being recognised for their efforts to tackle discrimination in their schools and communities.

Sir Ian described Section 28, the law that prohibited the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality in schools, as “an attack on people your age, to keep you ignorant”.

He warned that the improvements in schools since the act’s repeal in 2003 could well be reversed if campaigners did not keep up their efforts.

“A quick change in mind in one direction presumably could be followed by a quick change in mind in another if we didn’t keep going on and shouting the odds and making the difference that we all want,” he said.

Sir Ian added: “The exciting thing for you is that within the confines of your school you can make the difference … in a matter of weeks, months the atmosphere changes at the school.”

He said: “You are more modern than I, more sophisticated than I, luckier than me to see that perhaps labels … are not really what we need to cope with the world.

Stonewall Parade

“Labels become irrelevant, you are what you are, I am what I am and you may not be discriminated against in your school and hopefully not in your country.”

The awards marked the culmination of the 2016/2017 Youth Volunteering Programme, which helps young people aged 16-21 campaign for LGBT rights.

The awards were presented by Stonewall and sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group.