The late Dr. Alan Turing has received a rare ‘mercy pardon’ from Queen Elizabeth II. Turing was convicted of being gay in the years following World War II. Only 3 such pardons have been issued since 1945 but this may have been long overdue.
Alan Turing is considered the father of computing mathematics. He helped solve the Nazi Germany’s top-secret ‘Enigma’ communications. By breaking the code Turing saved countless lives in Europe. He was a 20th century genius who Stephen Hawkings considers one of the most important mathematicians in history.
Turing, born in 1912, traveled to America in 1936 to attend Princeton University. He then returned to Britain in 1938 and began ‘shadow’ work with the British cryptanalytic department known as the Government Code and Cypher School. At the onset of Wold War II Turing began full-time work at the headquarters in Bletchley Park. He became the team leader who worked to break the Nazi war code called ‘Enigma.’
In 1949 Turing would turn to Manchester University and become the director of the computing laboratory where he would develop the basis for artificial intelligence. Just prior he also developed a machine that was able to do computations at speeds that had never been imagined. His work and ideas were the foundation of today’s modern computer technology.
In 1952 during a police investigation of a house burglary, Turing admitted to being homosexual, at a time in British history when being gay was illegal. He admitted to and was convicted of one count of gross indecency. To avoid prison time Turing agreed to chemical castration. Turing was stripped of his security clearance and administered doses of female hormones in order minimize his libido.
In 1954, at the age of 41, he died of cyanide poisoning which was reported as a suicide. However, many of his friends and peers believe his death was an accident. The Queen’s ‘mercy pardon’ for Turing’s conviction of being gay was issued today by Justice Minister Chris Grayling. British law regarding homosexuality would not be struck from the books until 1967.
Grayling stated that the pardon was long overdue and that his conviction would be considered unjust and discriminatory by today’s standards. Grayling felt that Turings contributions to society had too long been overshadowed by the conviction and that the Queen’s mercy pardon for his being gay was a fitting declaration by the royalty at this moment in history.
Many have sought a pardon for Turing and for years Dr. Sue Black was in the forefront petitioning for a pardon. The petition gathered over 37,000 signatures among them eminent scientist including Stephen Hawkings. Dr. Black, a computer scientist, has long sought a pardon for Turing. She believes that Turing and all men who had been convicted under the anti-homosexual laws should receive a pardon.
Speaking with the BBC she mentioned that a small step had been taken to correct a profound wrong. She also said that the disrespectful treatment of homosexuals at the time was a disgrace to England. Turing posthumously receives the Queen’s pardon for being gay 61 years after the event and it goes into effect today December 24, 2013. Likely millions around the world are reading Turings’ story on devices that he hypothesized would some day exist.
Written by Anthony Clark