Welcome back to another post on our LGBT+ Queeroes series, a daily spotlight on 28 individuals who made great contributions to the fight for equality and inclusion for the LGBT+ community. We are also using this space to shine a light on those that made great contributions to society in general, despite societies view on them at the time.
Today’s post shines brightly on English mathematician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst and war hero, amongst many other things, Alan Turing.
Alan Mathison Turing was born in June in the year 1912 in Maida Vale, London. He attended schools in East Sussex and Dorset before attending King’s College, Cambridge. Graduating in 1934 with a first-class honours in mathematics, Turing was elected a Fellow at King’s College in 1935 at just 22 years of age.
Turing’s education and research continued as he attended Princeton University, working alongside fellow mathematician Alonzo Church, and in 1938 he received his PhD from the Department of Mathematics. Turing would later return to the UK where his career took him outside of the research lab and into war.
Though he had been involved with the British Government for some time, in 1939 Turing worked full time in a role at Bletchley Park to support the British war effort and their allies on deciphering Nazi codes. It was during this time that Turing would work on the Enigma code, an enciphering machine used by German armed forces as a means to send messages securely. To make things more complicated they would changed daily and the pattern seemed impossible to crack. Working tirelessly alongside fellow code-breaker Gordon Welchman, the Bombe machine was invented and greatly reduced the work of the code-breakers and ultimately changing the tides of war. But his work didn’t stop there.
While solving the Enigma code helped to overcome the Nazi Air Force, a variant to that code known as Kriegsmarine (naval) was being used by German U-boats. As the aquatic casualties rose it became crucial that this code was cracked and in 1941 Turing's Banburismus did just that, saving countless lives and significantly reducing the length of the war. Banburismus would later influence the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer, Colossus.
The following year, Turing’s mastery as a codebreaker continued with the invention of the Turingery technique, a method which could decipher Lorenz messages, another Nazi coding machine. In that same year, Turing would also develop a speech enciphering device, Delilah, as a method to secure voice communications, though it was never fully deployed.
After the war, Turing’s work lead to research and development within computer science, something he had already been interested in 10 years prior. In 1946, Turing had designed what is considered to be the first digital computer known as the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), though he would never actively be involved in its development in 1950.
Turing’s work continued in the field of computing and artificial intelligence and would ultimately bestow him the title as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. His research and publications are revered to this day, more than 60 years after publication. All was going well for this computational coding juggernaut, but Turing's life and career was about to change.
In 1952, a time when homosexuality was illegal, Turing was charged with gross indecency after the police discovered his relationship with another man. Following court proceedings, Turing was spared a prison sentence and placed on probation on the condition he underwent chemical castration - injections to reduce his libido. While he was permitted to continue his work in academia, Turing lost his career with GCHQ and was unable to travel back to America.
On the 08th June 1954, Turing was found dead in his home under circumstances that are still debated to this day. It seemed that the world would never learn about this amazing man, his genius and the way he helped change the course of events during WWII; and with the Official Secrets Act in place it almost seemed like his story would never be known. Or would it?
In 2009, following an online campaign, Gordon Brown issued a humbling apology on behalf of the British government for the “horrifying” and “unfair” mistreatment given to Turing. Two years later, Turing’s work at Bletchley Circle was declassified and the world would come to know the story of one of many LGBT+ heroes during WWII. It was during this year that Queen Elizabeth II herself would also issue a royal pardon for his convictions.
But his story does not end there, and it never will, as his legacy remains a great influence on science, culture and the wider society. His research in mathematics and computer science are reknowned to this day and continue to influence technological theory and advancement. Furthermore, he continues to inspire millions of LGBT+ individuals as an icon. This year, the Bank of England will release the new polymer £50 note with Alan Turing’s picture, and most recently we saw RuPaul’s Drag Race UK contestant Tia Kofi pay homage to him in the Gay Icon challenge.
But this is just a whistlestop tour of his story and should you wish to learn more about the man, his work, his life and his legacy, then you can visit:
There is a number of media out there including:
- Alan Turing – Celebrating the life of a genius from Cambridge University
- Alan Turing: The Enigma from Biographics
- Alan Turing from the BBC Radio 4 discussion series In Our Time
- The Imitation Game, a historical drama staring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Kiera Knightley as Joan Clarke, Turing’s one time fiancé. This film is currently available on Netflix at the time of writing (02/02/2021).
NB: writing this particular blog was incredibly difficult for me. Like many LGBT+ people and someone with background in IT, I knew Turing’s story. However, undertaking deeper research for this post I came across information that became more and more distressing. No human should have gone through what Alan Turing went through and no human should ever again.
It took one online campaign to change his story, please do not ignore any future campaigns that come your way that can make a difference for the LGBT+ community. We must do our part in the fight for equality and not let fear and ignorance continue its destructive path.