LGBTQ+ History Month: Alan Turing

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Alan Mathison Turing was an English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalization of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. However, he was also a tragic figure: a hero who was never fully recognized in his home country during his lifetime due to his homosexuality, which was then a crime in the UK.

Turing played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements and, in so doing, helped win the war. It has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over fourteen million lives.

Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, when “gross indecency” was a criminal offense in the UK. He accepted chemical castration treatment, with DES, as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death as suicide, but it has been noted that the known evidence is also consistent with accidental poisoning.

In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013. The Alan Turing law is now an informal term for a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

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6 Responses to LGBTQ+ History Month: Alan Turing

  1. Besides all his other accomplishments, he was also a talented distance runner.

  2. I came across his name and fame as I was interested in the history of computers. but, I think it was in a philosophy class. Then, I thought his loss for such a reason was a shame.

  3. Thanks for your post on this topic. I saw the movie, “The Imitation Game”, when it came out about four years ago. It is an amazing and tragic story.

  4. Raybeard says:

    To my shame, I;d never heard Turing’s name until I was 40, even though I’d been actively campaigning for gay rights for over 10 years at that point. It was through Hugh Whitmore’s 1987 play ‘Breaking the Code’ put on London’s West End stage starring Derek Jacobi that Turing’s name became widely known. (A TV version of the same play, also with Jacobi, was shown by the BBC some 10 year later). From what I gather, before then any mention of him, let alone his gigantic legacy, was shrouded in hush-hush tones as though being too shameful to be mentioned in ‘respectable’ society. As you say above, all that has now very belatedly been changed.
    You are right in putting a question mark over whether the suicide verdict was a correct one. I doubt if we will ever know.
    One can’t deny that he was one of the most remarkable of men, one to whom many millions of us owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

  5. WHY has loving someone of the same sex a crime? I have never understood that…

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