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14 Apr 2011

McKellen takes gay tour to UK schools

Openly gay actor Sir Ian McKellen is on his third month of his nationwide "role model" tour of secondary schools on behalf of Stonewall, the gay equality charity that he co-founded in 1989. Over last two years, he had toured 54 secondary schools and has inspired not only students but teachers to come out to their supervisors.

The following is an excerpt of an article written by Stonewall Communications Officer Gary Nunn and published in the UK Guardian. Stonewall is a UK charity and lobby group that was co-founded in 1989 by actor Sir Ian McKellen and a small group of women and men who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act. On its website, it describes Section 28 while it was in force as being "an offensive piece of legislation designed to prevent the so-called 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools; as well as stigmatising gay people it also galvanised the gay community."

A wide variety of resources such as reports and teaching resources to challenge homophobic language and support LGBT young people are available online

In 2005, Stonewall launched the Education for All campaign to help tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying in primary and secondary schools and works with a wide coalition of groups including local government and private organisations. Its offers workshops and training programmes for teachers and school staff to combat bullying in primary and secondary schools as well as resources for use in the classroom so that teachers can integrate combating homophobic bullying into the curriculum. A wide variety of resources such as reports and teaching resources to challenge homophobic language and support LGBT young people are available online. Stonewall's 6th annual Education for All Conference is slated to take place at the British Library on the July 1, 2011.

The group has since expanded its scope and programme to include and raise public awareness of civil partnership, parenting, workplace diversity, health issues and local projects to develop LGB communities.

"Do you know any gay people?" asks Sir Ian McKellen asks. Silence. Heads shake. "Well, you do now. I'm gay." It's my turn to speak up. "You know two now. I used to go to this school – and I'm gay," I offer. "You know three now," a sixth-former chips in. The other pupils don't look too surprised, and he seems admirably comfortable in his sexuality. Silence. Then: "Erm. Well. You know four now." Heads shoot around to see a uniformed boy, leaning close to McKellen. Mouths fall slightly open – including mine – but nobody speaks. Then McKellen says, in that mellifluous voice of his, "Well. How about that? It turns out we all know quite a few more gay people than we thought we did."

This is the third month of McKellen's nationwide "role model" tour of secondary schools on behalf of Stonewall, the gay equality charity that he co-founded, and which I work for, and the two of us have come to Hundred of Hoo comprehensive in Kent, which I left over a decade ago.

It has become a familiar scene for him. "My school visits are often rewarded by people coming out," he says. "And I don't just mean pupils – I've heard staff coming out to their heads on my visits, too."

McKellen obviously has a powerful effect on the schools he visits; how does this make him feel? "A bit overwhelmed – and privileged," he says.

Gandalf has worked his magic in 54 secondary schools over the last two years. His dream? An education system free of the homophobia that has plagued it for years – and a curriculum that fully includes lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Hundred of Hoo has recently come out of special measures and is no stranger to underachievement. McKellen and Stonewall see visits to schools like this as crucial to ensure that not one ounce of potential is lost for today's gay pupils – especially for those who under-perform because their confidence has been battered by bullying.

Sir Ian McKellen (right) with Ben Doyle, deputy head boy, and Zahra Al Moozany, head girl, as he visits secondary schools on behalf of the gay equality charity Stonewall. 

Homophobia was rife when I was a pupil. "Freak", "queer" and "disgusting" were familiar words, aimed at anyone, like me, who was perceived to be gay. Consequently, nobody dared to come out. This created an un-virtuous circle; teachers could see no reason to address gay issues in lessons when there appeared to be no gay pupils. It wasn't until I left that I discovered three of my best school friends were also gay. We had been too scared even to admit it to each other.

The notorious "section 28" law, introduced in 1988 when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, was to blame for much of this. This made it illegal to "promote" homosexuality in schools. So homophobia festered unchallenged for 15 years until its repeal in 2003. But the hangover remains. Recent YouGov research for Stonewall found that nine in 10 secondary school teachers say their pupils experience homophobic bullying, but nine in 10 have never received any training on how to tackle it. Ninety five per cent of teachers hear the phrases "you're so gay" or "that's so gay". Homophobia is so commonplace that "gay" has entered the school vernacular as a synonym for anything inadequate.

Read full story in The Guardian.

Reader's Comments

1. 2011-04-14 15:24  
wow, the deputy head boy is so cute!
2. 2011-04-14 19:24  
Lagunabro, don't you have a mirror you should be staring at right now.
3. 2011-04-14 20:00  
YOU SHALL NOT PASS...without leaving that cheap closet behind. i have such a girly crush on mckellen :)
Comment edited on 2011-04-14 20:04:39
4. 2011-04-14 20:17  
Good for Sir Ian McKellen, for focusing his passions, talents, utilizing his influence and celebrity to reach out to people, young and older, in distress.

Promoting equality on his Role Model Tour, he's doing what he can to make a positive difference in many lives.

Metaphorically speaking, when I look into the mirror, I wish I saw "Gandalf's" noble reflection.
5. 2011-04-14 20:48  
"Homophobia is so commonplace that "gay" has entered the school vernacular as a synonym for anything inadequate." It is a spot-on, no one should be forced to feel inadequate at school. School must ensure that no student should underperform because their confidence is deprived in one way or another.
6. 2011-04-15 00:32  
How well a society takes in their gay community reflects how proper the education has been structured. and i dun mean proper in the sense of just producing bunch of rocket scientists..
7. 2011-04-15 09:30  
one would hope that this elderlyl homosexual statesman never embraced that ignoble slur term 'queer' he mentioned to be worn as if a badge of honour after so many suffered under it's vile assault over so many decades like so many philosophically decayed homosexual rights advocates have
Comment edited on 2011-04-15 09:32:29
8. 2011-04-15 11:55  
@aztlan_oz: "like so many philosophically decayed homosexual rights advocates have" Do you have any specific names/examples to share? Or, are you just making a sweeping, generalized statement about elderly homosexuals?
9. 2011-04-15 20:43  
Someone I used to know had a cool photo of him with Surrian at a London Pride march. I think the big slogan on Surrian's t-shirt were "Nobody knows I'm gay", which is cool to see on a man of advancing years. Then again, I look like 'im, these days, except, unlike Surrian, I don't have handsome Chinese guys asking to have their pic taken with me. Sadly.
10. 2011-04-18 01:40  
Thank you, Sir Ian. :-)

11. 2012-10-28 16:05  
Not only a very fine actor, but a great, great man for this work he is doing!

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