by Rex Wockner
International News Briefs
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized to Alan Turing on Sept. 11 after 31,564 people signed a petition on Brown’s Web site asking him to do so.
Turing – the openly gay founder of modern computing who cracked key Nazi military codes during World War II – was prosecuted in 1952 for the crime of engaging in gay sex and was chemically castrated and stripped of his security clearance. He committed suicide in 1954.
“On behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better,” Brown wrote.
“Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes,” Brown explained. “It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War II could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ – in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.”
“Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated,” the apology continued. “While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was, of course, utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction. I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.”
Leading gay activist Peter Tatchell called Brown’s apology “most welcome and commendable.”
“But,” Tatchell said, “a similar apology is also due to the estimated 100,000 British men who were convicted of consenting, victimless same-sex relationships during the 20th century. Singling out Turing just because he is famous is wrong. Unlike Turing, many thousands of ordinary gay and bisexual men were never given the option of hormone treatment. They were sent to prison.”
Another famous victim of the gross indecency law was Oscar Wilde, who was prosecuted and jailed in 1895.