In the words of Alan Turing, “sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” Not only is this true to his story, but of so many of us in the LGBTQ community who feel sidelined because of the people we are.
We chose today to highlight Alan Turing because, in the world of the Elton John’s and Lady Gaga’s where activism is as much about celebrity and attention as it is about civil rights, some of our younger brothers and sisters may not be aware of those who went before us, achieving incredible things for the greater good whilst being persecuted.
Alan Turing was a genius and his code-breaking work during the Second World War can be argued to be the single greatest achievement that lead to the allied victory. For this, he was rightly honored with an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) award in 1946. His achievements in helping the allies win the war are undisputed and are his legacy, but his sinister conviction for being a gay man and subsequent posthumous pardon in 2014 from Queen Elizabeth II need to be equally part of his legacy and highlighted as part of our history and heritage in the LGBTQ community.
So why is this so significant to today? Alan Turing was born in to a world where being gay was illegal. A harsh reality for us to swallow now as he was expected to suppress who he was, but it was reality for him all the same. He knew that being reported for being engaged in a same-sex relationship came with a severe penalty but, unable to live without companionship, he took the risk anyway. Sadly this can be a reality for man in our community today too.
In 1952, Turing started a relationship with a man 20-years his junior while living in Manchester, UK. Only about a month later, Turing’s house was robbed and his boyfriend confessed that is was an acquaintance of his. Seeking justice for the burglary, Turing reported this to the police, and in the course of the investigation that followed, confessed to being involved in a same-sex relationship. Both men were charged with gross indecency and Turing plead guilty with advice from his lawyer. He was convicted and offered either prison time or ‘chemical castration’ with a synthetic form of estrogen. He chose the latter (hardly a choice anyone would want to make). He committed suicide two-years later.
To quote Albert Einstein, “it’s harder to crack a prejudice than an atom” and this is so extremely evident in the case of Alan Turing. Widely considered to be the father of modern computer science, it’s hard to imagine what brilliance and ungodly advances in technology we may have lost because Turing’s life was cut so short. Such a brilliant mind taken from us way too soon all because he was simply living his life.
There has been some recompense however. In 2014 Turing received an official Royal pardon for his ‘crime’. Why is this so significant? Firstly because it is the first time since the Second World War that a criminal conviction has been pardoned for a crime someone was technically guilty of, but secondly, because it seeks to recognize at government level that there was a wrong that need to be fixed. This was beautifully summed up by British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, when he said: ” While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
The ‘Alan Turing Law’ is now an informal term for the law in the United Kingdom which serves as an amnesty to retroactively pardon men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.
In the term used in the UK to remember those who died in service of their country:
“At the going down of the sun, an in the morning, we will remember them.”
The LGBTQ Heritage Team