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5 Things We Learned From Sir Ian McKellen

5 Things We Learned From Sir Ian McKellen

Ian McKellen

The actor says he wishes he came out sooner, but adds that being openly gay made him a better actor. 

Photography by Danielle Levitt for Out

This Pride Month is a big one for Sir Ian McKellen. The 76-year-old British actor was honored by The Trevor Project on June 15 with the Trevor Hero Award, rewarding his works to increase visibility and understanding of the LGBT community.

Later this month, Sir McKellen will also be one of the four Grand Marshalls at New York City Pride. To go back on his expansive body of work and trailblazing work as an LGBT activist (he co-founded Stonewall UK), Huffington Post-Gay Voices caught up with the actor.

Here, five things we learned from the interview:

On founding Stonewall UK:

"[Back then] there was no equal age of consent [to have sex]. It was 21 for gay people. Nobody worried about the lesbians -- they could just get on with it! It was 16 for straight people. Now it's 16 for everybody. Gays could not serve [openly] in the military. That's now gone. There was a very nasty law called Section 28, which inhibited teaching about homosexuality in schools. That's what got me out. That's what got me involved. Well, that law is gone. It is now, ironically, illegal to discriminate against gay people in schools -- a total reversal of Section 28! We now have civil partnerships for gay couples if they want or they can get married if they choose. Stonewall has been a prime mover in all those improvements. I wouldn't pick one as more important than the others."

On the importance of celebrities coming out:

"Of course, the importance of coming out is personal. The importance of coming out is that you're out yourself and your life is changed, I think, for the better. That affects those who love you -- your friends, your family, people you work with. I would never say to a celebrity, "Come out for the good of society." You must come out for the good of yourself. The rest will follow. Nor does it mean that if you do come out, you have to immediately start talking about gay issues as if you were an expert."

On the effect of his coming out:

"And with the media, it was like a millstone that I didn't know had been around my neck and that fell off. And what happened immediately, according to friends, is I became not just a happier person, but a better actor. I think up to that point, I had been using acting as a disguise -- somewhere where I could express my emotions, and draw attention to myself in a way that I didn't particularly want to do in real life. Acting became not about disguise, but about telling the truth. And my emotions became much freer. I was able to act better as I think you are able to do any job. Everyone's better if they're being honest."

On wishing he'd come out sooner:

"I regret and always shall that I didn't see the significance of coming out at a much earlier date because I think I would have been a different person and a happier one. Self-confidence is the most important thing that anybody can have. You don't have that if part of you is ashamed or hiding something. I can reassure people who don't feel they're able to, the world will like you better because people like honesty and authenticity."

On advice for young LGBT people:

"That they're not alone. They may feel very, very cut off. And the coming out journey may take a very long time -- as it did for me -- or it can all be done very, very quickly. But accept that it's a process. And it's a progress.

And thank goodness there is so much literature -- there's so much online, so much positive literature that you can read! The Trevor Project is a good way to start. Their website recommends reading material and other ways in which you can contact other gay people. You'll discover that you're really not alone."

Read the full interview on Huffington Post-Gay Voices.

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