Pride month is a time for equal parts joy and reflection: a time to recognize progress but also remember the continued struggle for acceptance the LGBTQia+ community faces even now. We are reminded of this duality when we think of Alan Turing, who would have been 110 on this day, June 23, 2022.
Mr. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. While Mr. Turing was a renowned mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist, he was also a gay man living in a world that both needed and punished him.
During the Second World War, Turing worked at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking center. For a time, he led Hut 8, the section that was responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Here, he devised techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Turing played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Axis powers in many engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic. Turing, however, was never fully recognized in Britain during his lifetime because much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act.
Despite the incredible contributions he made to the war effort and the field of computer science, he was condemned for being gay and ultimately “convicted under Victorian laws as a homosexual and forced to endure chemical castration … and on June 7, 1954, Turing died as a criminal,” 16 days before his 42nd birthday. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/05/obituaries/alan-turing-overlooked.html)
However, in August 2009, more than 30,000 people signed a petition urging the British government to apologize for Turing’s prosecution. Fifty-five years after his death, Prime Minister Gordon Brown released a statement apologizing for his treatment, “We’re sorry — you deserved so much better. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was, under homophobic laws were treated terribly.” Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.
On Turing’s birthday in 2021, the Bank of England released a newly designed £50 note featuring his portrait – an enduring reminder of the need for acceptance and the value of inclusion.
Turing’s tragic story teaches us to remember the power we have to be an ally and to drive change, for the better. Now and always.