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Ian McKellen: MP told me Section 28 was Thatcher's 'bit of red meat for the right'

2016-03-22
Ian McKellen says a government insider told him Section 28 was "a bit of red meat" which Thatcher threw to the right at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Speaking to Owen Jones for a video interview, McKellen also discusses coming out late in life, and recalls growing up when, "people like me were queer, that was the nicest word that was used about us." The The Lord of the Rings and X Men star came out in a radio interview in 1988 during the public discussion around Section 28, a Conservative policy which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality in schools. He scoffs at it even now. "You can't promote sexuality," he says, shaking his head. "You can talk about it, you can't recommend it. I was recommended heterosexuality all my life, I'm still gay, and I think the reverse is probably true." He offers interesting behind the scenes information about how the legislation came about, following the public's awakening on the HIV/AIDS crisis. McKellen says that a Conservative party whip spoke to him about Section 28 at the time, saying, "That's a bit of red meat thrown to the right wing wolves by Mrs Thatcher (that was his exact phrase). If you're going to stop it in future you've got to organise, you've got to be ready for it when it happens. Start a gay lobby." He was then instrumental in setting up the Stonewall charity which has successfully lobbied for LGBT rights in the UK ever since. Curiously, after the former prime minister's death McKellen revealed that one of Thatcher's final acts before she left Downing Street in 1990 had been to grant him a knighthood. OWEN JONES IAN MCKELLEN   Looking back on his early life, McKellen explains that he was "deeply closeted, unable to talk to my parents about it, it was not a subject that was on the school curriculum," and adds that he didn't come to terms with himself as a gay man until he went to drama school and saw "how many beautiful young men there were." The Oscar nominated actor explains that he never suffered homophobic abuse through the early decades of his career because nobody knew he was gay. "I found myself working with people who didn't care whether you were gay or straight," he said, remarking that people only cared if you were good at your job. "There was no discrimination against me at all, until the point that I came out, then there was a barrage of death threats." McKellen adds that he's still angry about how society treated gay people, and thoroughly advocates coming out, and being honest about one's sexuality. "Have you ever met anybody who came out, and was honest about their sexuality and regretted it?" he says. "It is astonishing. It is totally positive. It is totally for the good of yourself, your friends, your family and society." More stories As a gay woman, I'm a Westminster outsider: The SNP's Mhairi Black talks to Owen Jones Ian McKellen: Is it prejudice or chance no openly gay man has ever won the Oscar?