Sir Ian McKellen didn’t come out as a gay man until he was 49, but he is making up for lost time now.
McKellen is the co-founder of Stonewall U.K., which lobbies for legal and social equality for gay people, and is a patron of the Albert Kennedy Trust, which supports homeless LGBT youths. For his ongoing support of the LGBTQ community, the Oscar-nominated actor was presented with the 2015 Trevor Hero Award at Monday’s TrevorLIVE New York.
“Well, as is often the case with gay people and the problems that they have because society is pointing a finger at them and saying, ‘Your difference makes you inferior,’ The Trevor Project is doing things that the government should be doing, that schools should be doing, that society as a whole should be doing,” McKellen told PEOPLE at the event celebrating The Trevor Project‘s support of for LGBTQ youth.
Susan Sarandon, who presented her longtime friend with the honor, praised McKellen, 76, for visiting schools in the U.K. and “exposing homophobic bullying on the playground and online, and teaching 18-year-olds about growing up gay … and asking them to be kind to each other.”
In his acceptance speech, McKellen told the audience: “We know, because of The Trevor Project, that there are dark corners where it’s not easy to be yourself. And anyone who’s ever been though the painful, but in the end glorious, experience of coming out – because it’s the best thing you ever do – can sympathize with people in that situation.”
After his moving speech, the actor showed his flair for the dramatic, dropping the mic and walking out into the crowd to perform a Shakespearean soliloquy.