Ian McKellen delivers powerful speech in Derry

Sir. Ian McKellen delivers the first annual Chancellor's Lecture to be held in Derry.
Sir. Ian McKellen delivers the first annual Chancellor's Lecture to be held in Derry.

More work needs to be done to build on the advances for gay equality, University of Ulster Honorary Doctor Sir Ian McKellen claimed today in Derry.

The acclaimed theatre and film actor told an invited audience attending the first annual Chancellor’s Lecture held in the University of Ulster, Magee campus, he was privileged to receive an honorary doctorate from the University whose ethos he shared.

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And he was especially delighted to receive the honorary doctorate from the University’s Chancellor Dr James Nesbitt – one of his co-stars from Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’.

In a lecture which focussed on religious and homophobic prejudice and the difficulties faced by homosexuals for many decades, Dr McKellen paid tribute to Stonewall and other gay groups at home and abroad for their work to promote equality.

Dr McKellen said: “Thanks to every gay person in public and non-public life who has come out.

“Thanks to those politicians not in thrall to those constituents who cling to the status quo and who, given referenda, would happily reinstate capital punishment and the beating of children.

From left to right, actor Jimmy Nesbitt, Sir. Ian McKellen and Professor Deirdre Heenan,  Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Communication) and Provost (Coleraine & Magee).

From left to right, actor Jimmy Nesbitt, Sir. Ian McKellen and Professor Deirdre Heenan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Communication) and Provost (Coleraine & Magee).

“Thanks most perhaps to the cherished national belief that an Englishman – and an Irishman’s – home is his castle and that the state has no business interfering in their bedrooms. Every rotten anti-gay law has been repealed, shaken down from the constitutional tree.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!”

As MPs prepared to vote on same sex legislation in the House of Commons, Dr McKellen added: “The Heavens have not fallen in – though some blame Tsunami and earthquakes, even 9/11, on God’s response to advances in gay freedom.

“The world, at least this part of it, is a better place.

“Beyond these isles things are worse than ever.”

In delivering the Chancellor’s Lecture, Dr Ian McKellen was following in the footsteps of distinguished jurist Baroness Kennedy, respected journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, the then Irish President Mary McAleese, the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland Sir Declan Morgan and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett, who delivered the encomium to Sir Ian before the presentation of his honorary doctorate, said it was a great coup for the University to be able to salute one of the greatest actors on stage and screen and campaigners for gay equality.

“Sir Ian’s performances have guaranteed him a place in the canon of English stage and film actors,” Professor Barnett said.

“But Ian Murray McKellen is also a man of deep personal conscience. He is known as a voice of liberty.

“And he is known for his attention to the everyday matters of human courtesy, respect and loyalty – all evident in his acting.

“We are delighted to be able to honour him today at our Magee campus and to have him deliver the annual Chancellor’s Lecture for the first time in the UK City of Culture.”

See Tuesday’s ‘Journal’ for full coverage of Sir. Ian McKellen’s visit to Derry.