Veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen has once again used his international celebrity to further the cause of gay equality.

Speaking in Singapore, the Lord of the Rings star urged the country’s government to ditch draconian colonial-era laws still in place which criminalise homosexuality among consenting adults.

Male homosexuals in Singapore face a maximum of two years in prison for gay sex.

Sir Ian is in the country with the Royal Shakespeare Company to stage William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.

In a promotional interview with a local radio station, he said:

“Just treat us with respect like we treat everybody else and the world will be a better place, I think.

“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.”

In April one of the most influential politicians in Singapore spoke out against laws banning sex between men.

Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990, and remains a powerful figure in the country.

In an interview with the Straits Times, Mr Lee talked about the theory that homosexuality is genetic.

“If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual – because that’s the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes you can’t help it. So why should we criminalise it?”

Under his premiership and the two Prime Ministers that succeeded him, the Singaporean authorities have banned gay films and public displays of homosexuality such as Pride events. Despite this there is an open gay scene.

The city state of nearly five million people is renowned for its draconian legislation.

Chewing gum is illegal and the police keep a close watch on public behaviour.

Last year, however, Singaporeans over the age of 21 were allowed to see Brokeback Mountain.

Mr Lee’s comments may be another sign that the country is slowly accepting homosexuality.

However, the sight of a naked Sir Ian may be too much for them – in contrast to his UK performances of King Lear, the actor will not strip bare on stage in Singapore.