Canal Street Online Manchester

Alan Turing celebrated

Alan Turing celebrated

In the year 2019 you would be hard pressed to find many within the LGBT community who have not heard of Alan Turing. In fact society as a whole has come to be familiar with the incredible achievements of the man who is most well known for cracking the enigma code which helped the Allies defeat the Nazis during World War II and becoming known as the 'Father of Modern Computing'. If we go back 65 years to when Alan Turing died he was essentially an unknown figure who's contribution to society was wrapped up in layers of secrecy during and after the war. 

In the year of 1939 the best minds from around the country were gathered together at Bletchley Park to help find ways to end the war. A key element of this was cracking the enigma codes used by the Nazi war machine, the efforts of Alan Turing and the team he led helped to break the codes and the work of Bletchley Park is often credited with shortening the length of the war by over 2 years. A million lives were probably saved thanks to the efforts of that team and it is unlikely any of those saved ever knew it. The work done by Turing and his team was kept a secret until the 1970s when the war secrets were declassified. 

It is unfortunate for Turing that he never made it to the 1970s as Turing had already committed suicide in 1954 after he was convicted of Gross Indecency with other men. His security clearance was revoked and rather than face prison for his homosexuality he opted for chemical castration. These combined factors were undoubtedly a huge blow to a man who had done so much in the service of his country. There is not a computer science student alive today who would not credit the early work of Alan Turing regarding algorithms and computing for getting us the likes of Google and Apple. He theorised about artificial intelligence and questioned the philosophical questions that the rest of the world hadn’t even considered at the time. 

The crime of homosexuality was not decriminalised until 1969 but the campaign to pardon Turing for his supposed crime did not start until the 1990s and did not reach the highest levels of Government until Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. An apology was issued in 2009 but it was only in 2013 that an official pardon was signed into law. In 2016 the same would be applied to all those who were convicted under similar indecency laws that no longer applied in British society. 

Alan Turing is now remembered by society as a whole, he’s not just an icon for the LGBT society but for the country as a whole. He gave everything to a society which was unwilling to give him anything in return. Turing is now often ranked as one Britain’s greatest ever icons and there is even a campaign to get him as the face of the new £50 note. The story of Turing has an enduring charm that resonates throughout the generations and he has gifted millions of people with aspirations and goals that will continue to inspire.

When you take a walk through the gay village today take a moment to stop and think that it’s the likes of Turing that ensured we have the rights that we do today. It wasn’t just his intellect that we admire but his sacrifice. History smiles on you Alan Turing. He changed society with his scientific brilliance but he never realised the contribution he made to the gay community and we owe it to him to continue to mark these special dates. 

By Dan Carter for Canal St Online.

Published: 7-Jun-2019

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