Mathematician Alan Turing, who helped the Allies win the Second World War by cracking Germany’s ‘unbreakable’ Enigma code, was granted a rare royal pardon Tuesday for a criminal conviction for homosexuality that led to his suicide.
Turing’s electromechanical machine, a forerunner of modern computers, unravelled the code used by German U-boats in the Atlantic. His work at Bletchley Park, Britain’s wartime codebreaking centre, was credited with shortening the war. However, he was stripped of his job and chemically castrated with injections of female hormones after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. Homosexual sex was illegal in Britain until 1967.Turing killed himself in 1954, aged 41, with cyanide.
Justice Minister Chris Grayling said the pardon from Queen Elizabeth would come into effect immediately and was a fitting tribute to ‘an exceptional man with a brilliant mind.’
‘His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he was pivotal to breaking the “Enigma” code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives,’ Grayling said in a statement.
‘His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed,’ he said.
Of course, Turing was a pioneer of modern computing — his contributions to the modern world go far beyond wartime codebreaking.
Feministing goes into more detail about how homophobia ruined Turing’s life:
In 1951, Turing started seeing a young man named Arnold Murray. Shortly thereafter, in 1952, Turing walked into his apartment and found it had been burglarized. It turns out the robber knew Murray and used homophobia and the reasonable fear of being outed, persecuted and prosecuted, to advance his larceny: Confident that gay men would not risk having their sexuality discovered, the burglar would break into the homes of Murray’s lovers. But Turing went to the police to report the crime. Sadly, when he admitted that he was in a relationship with Murray, the police deemed Turing the criminal. He was convicted of gross indecency and had his security clearance revoked, which meant an end to his cryptology work. In order to avoid jail, Turing ‘chose’ to under go experimental hormone treatment to ‘fix’ his homosexuality. He suffered side effects including the enhancement of breasts and impotence. In 1954, at the age of 41, he was found dead in his apartment. The autopsy revealed cyanide, most likely from the half-eaten apple found near his body.
This is a stark example of how homophobia can cause people to act against their own self-interest and nations to act against their own perceived national security. In the midst of the Cold War, Turing would have been extremely useful working at Government Code and Cypher School. But keeping the country ‘safe’ from what was deemed unnatural and deviant sexual behavior was, to the powers that be, more important than defending the country, and perhaps the world, from perceived foreign enemies.
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