This was the message from Sir Ian McKellen (pictured) writing in The Times recently marking the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, which also lent their name to the British gay rights group set up in response to Section 28, a law preventing the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.
Section 28 was a reaction to the spread of Aids in the 1980s, which was blamed almost exclusively on gay people, compounded by widespread homophobia in the press. But even within the party which introduced the law, there were concerns that it was unjust. McKellen writes that Tristan Garel-Jones, then a Conservative MP, told him that Section 28 was “a piece of red meat thrown to right-wing voters”.
Since then it has proved the bedrock of opposition by large numbers of gay people to the Tories ever since. Some believe that the Conservatives can never be trusted by gay people, regardless of the policies the party has in place regarding health, education or the economy. Hostility to the Conservatives as an “anti-gay” party continues, despite the fact that there are two gay MPs in the Shadow Cabinet, and a gay woman, Margot James, standing in one of the party’s key target seats at the next election.
In fact, such is the degree of hostility, or rather paranoia, that some conversations I have had have been of the “well, they might do it again” variety. I hope that David Cameron’s apology for Section 28 goes some way to reassuring gay people that this will not happen, and that the party is much more concerned about the economy than with throwing more red meat at right-wing voters.
But back to Ian McKellen’s message. He writes:
“For me, coming out made me unburdened and more self-confident. It made me a better actor. It opened me up emotionally. It’s amazing that it’s an experience that people who you’ll never meet, in places in the world you’ll never go to, can relate to. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
In this I wholeheartedly agree with him. Apart from the acting bit.
And this may be a harder task in some places than in others thanks to the efforts of certain public representatives, but it’s a message I pass on to every closeted gay person I meet.