LGBT+ History: Alan Turing

Alan Turing is best described by the BBC in their blog, “he is famous for being an eccentric yet passionate British mathematician, who conceived modern computing and played a crucial part in the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in WW2.

He was also a victim of mid-20th Century attitudes to homosexuality – he was chemically castrated before dying at the age of 41.”

The story of Alan Turing is a sad one but one which is known by a good many people.  He was like many gay men of the era in that nobody knew his sexuality at all and instead saw his achievements and talents.  He was interested in how the mind works and thought there was a way that a machine could perform the same defined tasks.  To accomplish this he came up with the idea of a ‘Universal Machine’ that could decode and perform any set of instructions.

At the onset of the second world war Alan Turing was inducted into code breaking department to aid Britains war efforts.  It was while there that information arrived about the Enigma machine which the German forces were using to encode their transmissions.  He and his team were able to crack these codes and save many lives.  Later he also developed a way of scrambling speech and shortly after that invented the hypothetical ‘Universal Turing Machine’.  For all these accomplishments he was awarded an OBE for his efforts in wartime.

In 1952 Alan Turing was arrested for Homosexuality and was found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ as it was still illegal at that time in Britain.  He avoided prison by choosing chemical castration.  In 1954 he was found dead by cyanide poising which was ruled as suicide.  Later, people have been disputing this and believe his death was an accident.

On 24th December 2013 Alan Turing was granted a pardon under the ‘Royal Perogative of Mercy’ after a request by Justice Minister Chris Grayling.  This pardon paved the way for the creation of the “Turing law” in Westminster.  This law was the Policing and Crime Bill which came into effect on the 31st January 2017 and enshrined in law a pardon for those convicted of consensual same-sex relationships.  This amendment was tabled by Lord Sharkey, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden with full government support.

The new law posthumously pardoned gay and bisexual men, whist also providing pardons for the living in cases where convictions have been deleted through the disregard process. This ensured that due diligence was carried out to prevent people from claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes – including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.  In an interview with Radio 4 Lord Sharkey said that of the 65,000 men who had been convicted under the laws only 15,0000 were still alive.  See the official announcement for the law here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/thousands-officially-pardoned-under-turings-law

In August 2017 Scotland announced a bill of its own but that one would automatically pardon people rather than require people to apply for it.

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