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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