Ian McKellen Writings

11 January 2003 | FFLAG Address

"I wish you'd been there when I was a boy growing up!"

The following address was delivered to the "Making a Difference" conference celebrating a decade of FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

There are a couple of empty chairs here, I just wish my parents were sitting in them. Or that something like the groups that you represent had existed when I was growing up near Manchester in the '40s and the '50. You know, when it was still illegal to make love. I never got round to telling them, but I know if I had they would have understood perhaps quicker than most parents. They were activists in their own way and good Christian people, and I think they would have been here with you.

Manchester, near where I come from, has been so important to the founding of FFLAG, and I remember one of my earliest bits of activism was on behalf of gay people with one of my oldest friends, and one of the people I admire most in the world, Michael Cashman, and we walked through Manchester against Section 28 and took over the town hall. It was a wonderful experience and there were people like you around, perhaps some in this room.

The people of Manchester, some of them, don't seem to notice, well certainly not the characters in Coronation Street. I mean finally two men get to kiss in Coronation Street, although it's true one of them was asleep at the time. How many years was it since Michael kissed a man on Eastenders, 1988, and the lesbian love story in Brookside? Surely the people who work on the programme must realise that it represents something in our society, and for them to ignore such a sizeable minority as gay people is rather ridiculous, particularly when so many of us are great fans of the programme.

It's as if Queer As Folk had never happened. I mean what were they talking about in the Rovers Return? Didn't they watch Queer As Folk, or didn't they notice Euro Pride when the traffic stopped and the best part of half a million Mancunians stood to watch gay people going by declaring themselves openly. Well, of course, they didn't get on to the national news, even though there were more people that day than there were at the Notting Hill Carnival.

So, there we go, we are living in a wicked world, and the picture is not entirely hopeful. There is confusion within the Anglican community, and it isn't entirely a private argument they are having. I wish they could be made more aware of the harm they do, not just to their own institutions but to society as a whole. I know there are many Christians, probably in this room, who are telling them.

But here's a quote. It is chiselled into marble on Thomas Jefferson's memorial in Washington DC:-

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

Well, that deals with Leviticus very nicely. But, of course, politicians can speak well and act rather slowly, though finally Section 28, glorious day, was repealed, but it did take an awful long time.

I don't think it will be enough just to leave things as they are.  We can't rely on the media to tell the truth and we can't rely on politicians, hence the importance of FFLAG. It's at the cutting edge of social change. It's about what matters most, individual lives, young lives, families and friends. You deal with love and reconciliation, understanding and outward joy.

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