Sir Ian McKellen has been out and proud as a gay man for quite some time.
In that time, the actor has said and done a lot of cool things for the LGBTQ community. He’s fought discrimination in the U.K., for example, and has been a voice of encouragement to young folks still in the closet. More recently, he pointed out that the Oscars don’t just have a racial diversity problem — they lack queer representation, too.
So it’s no surprise to learn that a moving coming-out letter would tug at McKellen’s heartstrings. Luckily for us, the beautiful moment was captured on film.
During a Letters Live event, where artists read powerful literary letters in front of live audiences, McKellen read a coming-out letter from book series “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin.
The letter is by a character named Michael Tolliver, who lives in San Francisco in the 1970s, and is writing home to his mother. McKellen had some trouble making it through with a dry eye.
So Tolliver takes a bold step and decides to tell his parents about his sexual orientation.
Tolliver doesn’t make apologies for who he is. But he understands what his mother must be feeling.
When Tolliver thanks his parents for making him the way he is — even if it’s not what they intended, McKellen fought back tears as the letter hit close to home.
The whole letter is definitely worth reading if you have a minute.
The letter may have been written during a different time. But even with all the progress we’ve made, it contains a message that still resonates.
We’ve come a long way in queer acceptance. In the U.S., a clear majority of people now support same-sex marriage. And those who don’t are on the wrong side of history, as marriage equality is now the law across the country. Awareness of issues that specifically affect LGBTQ people, such as bullying, are at the forefront of America’s consciousness in many ways.
But the voices of oppression are still strong. We have presidential candidates who want to reverse marriage equality. You can still be fired for being gay in many states. And the harmful practice of homophobic conversion therapy is legal in much of the U.S.
We still live in a time where coming out can be brutal. That’s why the letter is likely touching many more hearts than just McKellen’s.
Everyone who comes out has a different story to tell. For some, walking out of the closet is a breeze. For others, it means risking ending lifelong relationships with family and friends.
McKellen’s moving reading is a great reminder that — yes, even in 2016 — there’s still so much more work to be done. But it’s best we do it with empathy in our hearts.