As pride month launches, legendary actor Sir Ian McKellen took part in a massive demonstration in London, England against Chechnya’s purge of homosexuals.
On Friday, McKellen joined hundreds of protesters to voice his anger over reports that gay people were being rounded up, tortured and killed or held in detention centres, as reported by Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The protest was just one of 27 held at Russian embassies around the world.
McKellen told Evening Standard that is was “a matter of principle” to demonstrate outside the Kensington Gardens consulate as protesters demanded Moscow take action against the systematic persecution of gay men, calling it their “moral responsibility.” A longtime LGBTQ Rights activist, McKellen came out to the public in 1988. His is one of the founding members of Stonewall, the LGBTQ group who organized the London protest along with Amnesty International.
On Friday, the 78-year-old actor remarked, “I’m not usually in favour of commenting or interfering on the internal affairs of another country, even when it’s as close to us as Chechnya is, but the point is that this is a matter of principle. Our principles are shared across borders, and the plight of the gay men in Chechnya is the plight of gay men and women throughout Russia.”
At the protest, McKellen read a message from the Russian LGBTQ network to the gathered crowd: “Right now we need you to demand justice, we need you to tell your governments to take action, we need you to accept refugees, we need you to call for a transparent and just investigation that is going to hold those responsible to account.”
McKellen has just returned from a trip to Russia where he met with members of the LGBTQ community.
“It has become absolutely clear now, there is no doubt these atrocities are happening,” he told protesters. “This is more than an internal affair, this is a principle – that gay people should be treated equally with the rest of society. That’s what we fought for here, that’s what we’ve achieved. It’s what doesn’t apply in Russia any longer, I’m afraid, and certainly not in Chechnya.”
“So, to our gay friends and our straight friends in the federation of Russia, we are sending love and solidarity and concern, and we’ll be putting pressure on our own Government to make proper representations from a country like ours where gay people are free to speak their mind and live their lives.”
He continued, condemning the Chechen stance on homosexuals. “It is possible to think that gay people don’t exist because gay people are so frightened that they daren’t say they exist. What a condemnation it is of Chechnya that its authorities should believe that there are no gay people there, and if there were they shouldn’t be – it’s absolutely appalling. If gay people are invisible it’s because they are frightened to be themselves and come out, so it’s a condemnation not of gay people but the society they are trying to exist in.”
Organizers presented a petition bearing over 177,000 signatures to Russia’s London embassy, however, Amnesty reports embassy staff refused to accept the petition, despite being told about it in advance of Friday’s demonstration.