What makes Patrick Stewart a gay icon?

Due to his bromance with Ian McKellen and his outspoken support for the LGBTQ+ community, is it fair to consider Stewart a gay icon?

A photo of gay icon Sir Patrick Stewart. He smiles, wearing a suit and waving his hand in the air.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

In the latest instalment in his series spotlighting gay icons, David Ferguson looks at Sir Patrick Stewart.

I have been contemplating who else I would put on my gay icons list after Cyndi Lauper. I had a few ideas but something I saw online pushed the next person to the top of my list.

I saw a meme the other day that suggested that we should expect older people to be bigoted as “they’re from another era.” However, the meme countered this suggestion with a picture of Patrick Stewart (a man born in 1940) wearing some rainbow socks. And so, I have decided to make the case for him in this piece.

Patrick Stewart started his career on stage, becoming a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a Laurence Olivier Award winner for Best Supporting Actor in Anthony and Cleopatra. He later made the move to TV and starred in classic series like I, Claudius (1976) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979).

Personally, I discovered his work when he gained international recognition in his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), a role he continued in films and the more recent series Star Trek: Picard (2020-2023).

He also starred as Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies, starting in 2000 and continuing the role on and off until 2022. His friend Ian McKellen, who was initially sceptical of his foray into television, later realised he was wrong and joined him in X-Men as his friend/rival, Magneto.

It is the bromance between Patrick Stewart and queer actor Ian McKellen that really gives a public face to the case for Stewart being a gay icon. The two had met in the 1970s but only really got close while they filmed the X-Men movies.

Stewart has said: “On those kind of movies, you spend more time sitting in your trailer than you do in front of the camera. So, Ian and I hung out together, drinking tea — and maybe in the afternoon, something a little stronger — and we got to know one another.”

The two men, both of whom have been knighted, joined forces on stage too. They starred in the Two Plays in Rep, a combination of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, beginning in 2013. They promoted the premiere in New York City by adventuring all over town and posting photos of themselves at various landmarks.

They have been part of each other’s personal lives too, with McKellen officiating Stewart’s wedding to Sunny Ozell. Stewart has said of the bromance “I know that I’m in a love affair with Ian.” His wife doesn’t seem to mind.


There have been several moments that have endeared him to queer fans. He passionately locked lips with McKellen in 2015 when the pair appeared at the premiere of Sherlock Holmes, a film where McKellen played an elderly Holmes.

Stewart said of the incident: “I knew what I was doing! It took Sir Ian by surprise a little bit. We are very good friends, and quite intimate friends. It seemed appropriate! That is how we greet each other or say goodbye.

“But Ian isn’t the only one. I don’t want you to think I am a one-man guy!” He would later go on to kiss chat show host Conan O’Brien.

He has supported same-sex marriage, saying: “Gay marriage and the legalizing of gay marriage — and not only that, but the endorsement that even our prime minister has given to it — is fantastic.”

He added: “The world is becoming increasingly a more fair, a more truly democratic place to live, and I’m proud to have campaigned a little bit with Ian on those issues.”

He did spark some controversy when he supported Ashers Baking Company – based in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland – who refused to make a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

Stewart later commented on this issue on Facebook: “As part of my advocacy for Amnesty International, I gave an interview on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs.

“In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other.”

He also stated: “What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.”

Because of his support for the LGBTQ+ community and his bromance with Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart has an LGBTQ+ (especially geeky) fanbase, and he is part of my favourite platonic couple.

Should Patrick Stewart be considered a gay icon? Maybe a bit controversial, but I say “Make It So!”

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