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Ian McKellen worries about gay rights in Singapore


British actor Ian McKellen on Tuesday urged tightly-governed Singapore to loosen up and repeal its archaic laws barring homosexual acts.

The openly gay McKellen indicated the laws, which are remnants of British colonial rule, may affect a vibrant business city like Singapore, which is vying with other Asian cities to draw more foreign talent and professionals.

McKellen was in Singapore as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company`s world tour to stage William Shakespeare`s "King Lear" and Anton Chekhov`s "The Seagull" at the Esplanade, Southeast Asia`s most modern performing arts centre.

"Just treat us with respect like we treat everybody else and the world will be a better place, I think," McKellen said in a live interview on the Class 95 radio station, part of the state-linked MediaCorp group.

"Coming to Singapore where unfortunately you`ve still got those dreadful laws that we British left behind... it`s about time Singapore grew up, I think, and realised that gay people are here to stay," he said.

In a separate interview on MediaCorp`s Channel News Asia television station, the 68-year-old McKellen said: "I have been looking for a gay bar (in Singapore) if there is such a thing... so that`s what I have been looking for."

Homosexual acts are still outlawed in Singapore under laws dating back to British colonial days, despite the city-state`s being one of Asia`s most advanced economies.

Singapore has in recent years eased social restrictions in a bid to shake off its reputation as a culturally sterile and ultra-conservative society.

Some clubs are allowed to open all night while skimpily-clothed bar-top dancers and service staff work in some establishments.

The government said last year that oral and anal sex in private between consenting heterosexual adults would be legalised under Singapore`s first major penal code amendments in 22 years.

However, the penal code`s section which criminalises "gross indecency" between two males will remain, the government said.

Nevertheless, gay-friendly establishments like pubs and saunas are doing a roaring trade catering to both locals and foreigners.

While battling for gay rights, McKellen -- who played Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy -- has compromised on one thing during his Singapore stay.

For his starring role in "King Lear", he will not remove all his clothes during a key scene in which the king is forced into exile.

The scene has been performed nude at Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, and could have been repeated in Singapore with an "R18" restricted rating, which meant students below 18 years old would have been turned away.

Source: Ian McKellen worries about gay rights in Singapore

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