Actor Ian McKellen inspires LGBT-straight alliance against bullying

22 November 2012 - 16:13 By Times LIVE
Actor Sir Ian McKellen walking among gay organisation Stonewall members, carrying a poster reading:
Actor Sir Ian McKellen walking among gay organisation Stonewall members, carrying a poster reading: "Some people are gay. Get over it."
Image: Carlo Nicora

Actor Sir Ian McKellen has helped inspire a London school to set up an LGBT-straight alliance to fight gay and transsexual bullying.

According to Gay Star News, Acland Burghley school, in Camden, in the north part of the UK capital, has set up the group following the visit of the actor and gay rights veteran earlier this year.

Students spoke with him about his experiences as an actor, most famously as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, and his fight for gay rights.

McKellen told them he was encouraged by their openness for LGBT rights, and hoped other schools would follow their example.

Camden New Journal said he told pupils at the school that he “wished that every child, every teacher, every person in this room can be free to be who they are, whatever sexual orientation,” and told them of his hardships in coming out in a time when homosexuality was illegal.

The group, called ‘Connected’, has been set up by students of the school and La Swap sixth form, a nearby school. It was started because the students don't believe there is enough education on the gay, bisexual and transsexual issues.

Isabel Pitt-Watson Barnes, a sixth former and one of the founders of the group, said: ‘We set up the group to encourage students to take action themselves and to raise awareness of these important issues in school; from questioning stereotypes to stopping the use of the word "gay" as an insult.’

McKellan briefed students on the subjects of equal marriage, religious discrimination, and the use of the word gay.

He told them that he could not see why gay weddings should be considered wrong.

It was suggested to students that they should not use “gay” in a degrading way.
“Often gay can be used to describe an object in a bad way,” the assembly heard from Sir Ian.

“Please think about the way a gay person hearing that may feel when they’re compared to something that’s broken, unusable, useless.”

Vigan Banjica, 16, said the assembly had changed his attitude to gay people.
“I didn’t hate them anyway, but I didn’t like it being promoted,” he said.

Frank Hayman, also 16, said the assembly was a “step in the right direction”, but homophobia was a “deep-rooted culture”.
“He’s not just another person coming in and speaking, he has some authority and we know his face, which is why it has a lot more impact.

“He’s not just talking about little experiences either like a lot of actors do, he was really honest and personal so you want to listen
when someone’s doing that.”

Students also quizzed him on why British gay rights charity Stonewall, which he co-founded, does not support trans people, to which he told them that he would wish to see it happen in the future.

Over 50 students attended the first meeting. The group aims to host regular meetings with various speakers from the community, take part in school assemblies on LGBT issues and host various charity events. For LGBT history month, the group are also organising a march, as well as a charity concert.

Adam Castle, another of the group's founders, told Gay Star News it will also be a safe space for LGBT students, and will provide mentoring.

He said: ‘We want people in this school to be happy to be themselves and the group will provide a safe space for students and campaign to stop discrimination’.

Jo Armitage, head teacher of Acland Burghley school, said: ‘Acland Burghley is rightly proud of its track record of inclusion and diversity and is determined to be a school where every individual is valued, respected and able to express themselves.

‘I am delighted that students have taken the initiative to set up Connected to help us make homophobia a thing of the past’.

As cinema-goers await McKellen’s starring role in The Hobbit, he released a video, which gay anti-bullying campaigners hope will have just as much impact.

The video highlights the plight of kids bullied because of their sexuality, with McKellen saying: ‘Over half of lesbian, gay and bisexual students have experienced bullying in schools.

“56% of gay young people have deliberately harmed themselves. Nearly a quarter of young people have tried to take their own lives.”

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