Ian McKellen talks to us about the referendum and David Norris
The veteran actor acknowledges the influence of the tireless gay rights campaigner
I was in London late last week to speak with Sir Ian McKellen about his performance as an older Sherlock Holmes in the upcoming Mr Holmes. As you will be aware, the great man came out publicly in 1988 after being driven to understandable distraction by the Tory government’s schemes to prohibit “promotion” of homosexuality through the notorious Section 28. He has since been a tireless campaigner on LGBT issues. Sir Ian was, of course, aware of the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage and has already urged his “Irish friends” by Twitter to vote yes.
“Yes, it’s very exciting. What’s going to happen?” he burbles.
Well, the polls all suggest that it is going to pass comfortably. But they said the same thing 20 years ago about the divorce referendum and it just squeezed past on the day.
“Very interesting. Let me say one thing in passing,” he says. “When I got involved in gay rights one of our absolute heroes, shining examples and beacons of hope was Senator David Norris. His influence spreads way beyond Ireland. I know he personally was appealing to the European Court. We just kept saying to ourselves: ‘Look what David Norris has done. We can do it too.’ Oddly, Ireland has been in the vanguard of gay rights so long that it gives me hope the referendum is going to be all right.”
Why does he think attitudes have moved so quickly? Few would, at the end of the last century, have guessed that such a change would even be considered within a decade and a half.
“When we were starting Stonewall there was no reporting of gay people at all,” he says. “Never mind positive representations. The lobby here in part was to do with getting the media on our side. Once the media began to discuss it — in the context of Aids — then governments had to address it. So, Aids perversely did ultimately have a positive effect on the movement.”
He stops for one of many lengthy pauses.
“Of course the cause is so patently just it only had to be pointed out to a right-thinking person and they’d get it immediately.”
We shall see. You can read the full interview in these pages when Mr Holmes opens at the start of June. You can vote whichever way you choose on May 22nd.