Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gandalf Comes Out Against School Bullying; Works Magic Among Students

Sir Ian McKellan is Gandalf and Magneto...and he's gay!

Kent, United Kingdom – Sir Ian McKellan, international stage and screen star, best known for his portrayals of Gandalf the Wizard in The Lord of the Rings, and Magneto the Mutant in X-Men, is working the secondary school circuit to put an end to bullying against LGBTQ youth.  The Guardian reported in April 2011 that Sir Ian, who broke new ground by coming out as a gay man in 1988, is touring schools in a program to make education safer for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth.  Stonewall, the human rights and equality charity established by Sir Ian and a few others in 1989 is sponsoring the effort throughout Great Britain and Asia.  Here is an excerpt from the Guardian article by a Stonewall staffer who accompanies Sir Ian on anti-gay bullying school tours:

“Do you know any gay people?” 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 . . .This has a profound effect on two year 10 friends, who tell me: “We didn’t realise calling things ‘gay’ could offend someone. It was touching when he talked about never being able to tell his mum he was gay. One of our best friends is gay and he gets abused for it. We hope it will stop now.”

McKellan reprieves Gandalf in upcoming film, "The Hobbit"

Magic, indeed!  Sir Ian’s example challenges others to follow in his footsteps among celebrities and everyday folk alike, to expose homophobic and transphobic language for what it is: a chief contributing factor in violence enacted against youth who present in gender variant ways, or who dare to live authentic lives as lesbians and gays. At the final school assembly, Sir Ian tackles the issue of anti-gay hate speech, homophobia, and hate crimes:

“I’m not useless,” McKellen asserts . . . , “but when you use that word [gay] as an insulting adjective, that’s what you’re saying about me. So please, watch your language. Because if you don’t, you mightn’t watch your actions…” He goes on to tell how Ian Baynham was recently killed in a homophobic hate attack by teenagers. “The girl who stamped on his head might have used ‘gay’ to mean anything rubbish and useless. And that probably convinced her that gay people were rubbish and useless – and don’t deserve to live.”

So, Gandalf has exchanged his ring quest for a new campaign: to convince LGBTQ students they are of great worth, and to encourage their peers and their teachers and school administrators to support their gender variant students by bringing anti-gay violence to an end.  We at Unfinished Lives Blog cannot think of a more necessary or noble adventure for everyone involved.  Bravo, Gandalf!

June 24, 2011 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Gandalf, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Great Britain, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Ian McKellan, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stonewall, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandalf Comes Out Against School Bullying; Works Magic Among Students


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