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Sir Ian McKellen recounts life before decriminalisation in short film

By Ross Semple

Sir Ian McKellen is featured in a new short film about coming out to promote a queer art exhibition.

The short film, part of a series called Random Acts, stars Scott Chambers, with a voice-over by Sir Ian explaining what life was like for him growing up in the time before decriminalisation.

“There was no question of being out of the closet,” Sir Ian says in the film, “because you were inviting the police to arrest you. Do you want to go to prison?”

The film was made to promote ‘Queer British Art’, a new exhibition at Tate Britain.

Sir Ian recently looked back on his experiences of growing up gay in the era before decriminalisation, in the inaugural episode of our new podcast series Attitude Heroes.

Recalling life in Britain before being gay was made legal, the X-Men legend told us: “You did nothing in public to draw attention to yourself because you would be identifying yourself as a potential criminal. There was nowhere in the world where homosexuality was accepted. This is how the world was organised, gay people were subhuman.”

After spending the first two decades of his career keeping his sexuality hidden from the public, McKellen came out as gay in 1988 in response to the Thatcher government’s Section 28 legislation, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools around the country.

He later co-founded LGBT rights charity Stonewall before going on to become one of the UK’s most vocal LGBT+ rights campaigners.

You can listen to Sir Ian in episode 1 of Attitude Heroes below. You can download and subscribe to the full series here.