Prime Timers: A New Age for Activism

From authors and actors to artists and activists, these 25 LGBT prime timers are still on the front lines in the battle for equality and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.



Sir Ian McKellen, 74, Actor and Activist
Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, Sir Ian Murray McKellen is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. After spending several years building his reputation in British theater, McKellen came out of the closet to the general public during an interview on BBC Radio 3 in 1988, spurred to action by the British Parliament’s consideration and eventual passing of Section 28, a bill that prevented local authorities from “promoting homosexuality.”

Despite the common belief that such an admission would be career suicide, McKellen’s star continued to rise higher in his home country, where he was knighted in 1991 for his dedication to the arts, and in the United States, where his film career took off with critically acclaimed performances in And the Band Played On, Six Degrees of Separation, and Gods and Monsters.

With his reputation as a master thespian well secured, McKellen began to venture into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy movies, gaining mainstream popularity thanks to his portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men films and the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His part in these successful franchises proved broad audiences would not only embrace a gay actor in an action role, but view them as the living embodiment of popular characters.

Today, McKellen continues his unwavering dedication to furthering LGBT equality around the world. He cofounded Stonewall, an LGBT activist group in the U.K., and has worked with several other LGBT organizations, including the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Highlighting his passion for LGBT equality, McKellen once stated on his website, “I have been reluctant to lobby on other issues I most care about — nuclear weapons, religion, capital punishment, AIDS, because I never want to be forever spouting, diluting the impact of addressing my most urgent concern; legal and social equality for gay people worldwide.”


Rita Mae Brown, 68, Author
Rita Mae Brown is often credited as the mother of lesbian feminism, earning the title for her groundbreaking, best-selling lesbian coming-of-age novel Rubyfruit Jungle as much as for her well-publicized removal from the National Organization for Women after founder Betty Freidan bemoaned the “lavender menace” of lesbianism supposedly holding back the fight for women’s rights. When Brown was forcibly removed from the then-fledgling organization, she refused to go quietly, writing columns and leading the “Lavender Menace” direct action at NOW’s Second Congress to Unite Women in 1970. Two years later, Brown published Rubyfruit, which grabbed headlines and flew off bookshelves, buoyed by Brown’s enigmatic prose and unapologetically graphic (for the time) lesbian content.

Now 68, Brown is still an out and proud rabble-rouser, touring the country promoting her work as an author, playwright, and novelist. Brown is also an avowed animal lover — she told Time magazine in 2008 that she loves animals more than people. Brown also happens to be a master of American fox hunting, which she’s quick to note is all about the chase — no fox hides are brought home as trophies. Brown also founded and is still a leader of the Blue Ridge Polo Club, the nation’s first all-women polo team.

When Brown isn’t riding her beloved thoroughbreds leading a fox hunt around her sizable Virginia farm, she’s writing books and touring the country promoting her prodigious body of work. Her latest efforts include a pair of mystery novels “coauthored” by her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, starring a fictional feline sleuth named Mrs. Murphy.

While Brown is still an outspoken supporter for racial, gender, and economic equality, the current mainstream gay agenda, with its nearly singular focus on marriage equality, doesn’t interest her. “Remember, I’m a farmer,” Brown told the Gay and Lesbian Times. “I’m really basic, and so the emotional element of gay marriage is not important to me, but I know that it is to others; it’s very compelling to millions of people.”