In Depth

Sir Ian McKellen: 'Now is the time to be backing Europe'

Actor says the EU has promoted gay equality, but there is still work to be done in many countries

Sir Ian McKellen says that gay people should vote to remain in the European Union because of its efforts to protect gay rights internationally.

The Shakespearean actor, also known for his roles in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the X-Men films, made the comments in an interview in the Daily Telegraph. McKellen, who came out publicly in 1988 to protest against UK laws prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality, said he had seen vast improvements in gay rights in his lifetime, but there were still improvements to be made.

"There's a lot to be positive about – but not in the countries I'm visiting," he said, referring to his trips to India, China and Russia.

McKellen added that for this reason, he hoped Britain would vote to remain in the EU, because European legislation had helped to enshrine gay equality.

"Now is the time to be backing Europe and giving back that sense of empowerment to countries in the European Union that are still very backward in this regard," he said.

"If I were to look at In or Out from that point of view, there's only one point, which is to stay. If you're a gay person, you're an internationalist. I don't want us to retract. I don't want to and I won't, whatever the vote happens to be."

He added: "It wouldn't be the end of the world, but it's nearly the end of my life. And it's up to the youngsters to decide, really."

McKellen recently slammed India's anti-homosexuality laws in an interview in the Mumbai Mirror, pointing to section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial law that effectively makes sexual relations between gay men illegal.  

"India is going through what the UK went through 30 years ago," he said. "It is appalling and ironical that India would use a colonial law to oppress its homosexuals. India needs to grow up. India needs to realise that it doesn't need to follow British laws anymore."

McKellen recently took a break from acting, having set aside nine months to write his memoirs only to realise he didn't want to do it.

Speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival in April, the actor revealed that he had returned his £1m advance to publishers Hodder & Stoughton, after deciding against writing an autobiography that would chronicle his life and career.

"It was a bit painful. I didn't want to go back into my life and imagine things that I hadn't understood so far," he said.

McKellen reflected on his decision to come out as gay in an interview in Vanity Fair in 2012, where he also discussed Britain's changing attitudes to homosexuality. 

"The minute I came out, I felt immediately better in every way," McKellen explained. "I felt relieved that I wasn't lying. You know, when I was growing up in 1950s England, there were no gay clubs I knew about. There were no bars. Homosexuals were shamed publicly and imprisoned. You were on your own, looking over your shoulder all the time, hoping in the handshake of a stranger that he might be somebody gay."

McKellen is set to return to the stage in a revival of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land, co-starring Patrick Stewart, in August.

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