Wizardly actor and dedicated gay rights campaigner Ian McKellen was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Ulster yesterday. He was asked to deliver a lecture to an invited audience to mark the occasion, and he spoke about the achievements of the gay rights movement in Britain.
‘Thanks to every gay person in public and non-public life who has come out,’ McKellen said, BBC News reports.
‘Every rotten anti-gay law has been repealed, shaken down from the constitutional tree. So complete is the reversal, that we even have the anomaly of civil partnerships which are not available to heterosexuals and uniquely benefit the gays!’
McKellen spoke about being knighted by the Queen in 1991. He said he felt the honor was ‘a tiny suggestion that the political establishment was giving in to the idea that gay men could, despite the laws that disadvantaged us, be honorable and responsible citizens’.
The University’s vice chancellor Professor Richard Barnett introduced McKellen by describing him as ‘a man of deep personal conscience’ and ‘a voice of liberty’.
Actor James Nesbit, who starred with McKellen in The Hobbit, is chancellor of the University of Ulster and was at the ceremony as well.
‘We were sitting on a mountain in middle earth about six months ago and he [Nesbit] was proudly telling me he was chancellor of a university,’ said McKellen.
‘I didn’t quite believe him, but he said "oh come on, you come over and I’ll show you", so here I am and delighted to be here for the first time.’