Ian McKellen Writings

15 January 2000 | "A Gay Gandalf"

Homophobia is Everywhere

When gay activists refer to a widespread disaffection or fear of homosexuals and call it "homophobia," our opponents are sceptical. Some, with cloying declarations of "hating the sin and loving the sinner," may even deny its existence altogether. Time and again they are proved wrong.

For instance, whenever a modest legal change is proposed to ease the disadvantages gays and lesbians endure under the law, the homophobes always react strongly. This never surprises me but straight people can be puzzled by its ferocity. Remember President Clinton's bold promise to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the military? Gays knew it wouldn't be easy. He underestimated the united and irrational fear of those who said queers would undermine the stability of America's armed forces. And he had to withdraw bewildered under their fire.

Meanwhile, now that the United Kingdom government has obeyed the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (last week) only Turkey and the USA in NATO forbid their openly gay citizens from fighting for their countries.

My point is that Clinton was not defeated by the reasoned arguments of political opponents but was a victim of the same homophobia which imprisoned Oscar Wilde and which killed Matthew Sheppard.

So, taking a less momentous example, it was unsurprising that an uncensored Internet should recently criticise my casting as Gandalf in homophobic terms. Cranky anti-gay remarks in chat rooms remind me of verbal abuse in the playground - not that that didn't hurt too. Many unthinking people just don't like the idea of gays joining in their games, nor in the military and, it would seem, in the movies.

 — Ian McKellen, January 2000

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