Alan Turing (1912-1954)
A hero by any definition of the word, Alan Turing is a man that made a real difference to the world I live in now. Although I’d previously only heard of him in passing, as I’ve learned more about him in recent years I’ve come to realise not only what a debt I owe him, but how lucky I am to live in the 21st century.
The man was mathematical genius. His academic career before and after the Second World War did much to pave the way for modern computers – computers that, as a teenager, gave me access to an online world where I could explore my sexuality and realise that I wasn’t alone.
But during the Second World War, he put his genius to use at Britain’s code breaking centre, Bletchley Park. His work on understanding and cracking the German Enigma codes was vital to the war effort, and without him the Allies may never have won the Battle of Britain and the War. That victory meant that I was able to grow up in free country and a democracy. Indeed, it meant that I was able to grow up at all, as it is unlikely my Jewish relatives would have survived had Hitler not been defeated.
Turing’s only mistake was to develop an affection for the wrong man, Arnold Murray: a man who betrayed his trust and helped an accomplice burgle his house. After revealing his sexual relationship with Murray during the police investigation he found himself on trial for ‘gross indecency’. To avoid a prison sentence Turing was forced to take 0estrogen injections to inhibit his libido. His conviction meant he lost his security clearance, and with it the ability to continue working with the intelligence services at GCHQ.
He continued in academia and his work paved the way for the understanding of mathematical biology, helping to explain the zebra’s stripes and leopards spots. But he was never the same man again, and on 8 June 1954 he was found dead in his bed. An inquest determined that he taken his own life by eating a poisoned apple.
To think how badly this hero was treated is a tragedy. I can only imagine what he would have thought of the world he helped create. Homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 1967, 16 years too late for Turing. And now, in 2011, the Government has announced plans to consult on the introduction of marriage rights for gay people.
In September 2009 the then prime minister Gordon Brown posthumously pardoned Turing and apologised to him on behalf of the British Government. Brown said: ‘This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue.’ I cannot agree more.
Alan Turing is, without a doubt, my LGBT Hero.