ACTING legend and champion of gay rights Sir Ian McKellen has backed Sunderland’s approach to tackling bullying on a visit to schools in the city.
Sir Ian met pupils at Sandhill View and Hetton secondary schools to describe his own experiences of growing up gay and facing homophobic bullying and to answer questions about how he coped and some of the help and advice now available to teenagers.
On his visit he was accompanied by representatives of the national charity and campaign group Stonewall which he helped found to represent the views and interests of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.
During his visit, the internationally acclaimed actor and film star also discovered more about the anti-discriminatory work going across the city to protect vulnerable people from abuse.
This includes the anti-bullying strategy and chartermark which help make tackling bullying a priority in schools, and Sunderland City Council’s ARCH hate incident recording system, where anyone experiencing homophobia in Sunderland can call 08000 778 378 or visit www.sunderland-arch.org.uk to receive help and support.
After speaking, Sir Ian answered general and personal questions from students about homophobia and his work as an actor.
Sir Ian, who has appeared in The Lord of the Rings and The Da Vinci Code, said: “Until I visited secondary schools I hadn’t realised how much anti-gay bullying goes on throughout the education system in this country.
“By talking frankly about my own life as a gay man and listening to the concerns of staff and students I hope the visits arranged by Stonewall with Sunderland City Council, may make a difference in the classroom and the playground and also give confidence to gay students about their lives in the future.”
Pat Smith, the senior councillor responsible for education, said: “Sir Ian McKellen’s visit was timed to coincide with the publication and re-launch of the anti-bullying strategy and anti-bullying charter mark in our schools, both of which have been developed to ensure that there is a consistent approach to anti- bullying across the city.
“We want to create a culture in Sunderland where bullying is universally unacceptable and everyone can be reassured that any problems they may face are taken seriously and dealt with accordingly.”
Sunderland City Council anti-bullying co-ordinator Dorothy Maddison added: “Sir Ian McKellen’s visit was well received by the pupils at both Sandhill View and Hetton, with everyone keen to hear what he had to say about the problems he faced growing up as a gay man and the bullying he had experienced personally or seen first hand against others.”
During his visit to the area, Sir Ian visited the Royalty Theatre where he watched a production of Macbeth.
The visits were his first to Wearside.