In short, Turing, being both gay and a high-profile figure, became a victim of official persecution following his successful exploits as a WW2 codebreaker, leading to his agreeing to undergo chemical castration. Not surprisingly, given this abysmal treatment, he committed suicide in 1954, two years after his arrest.
The reaction to the pardon has been mixed, with some activists welcoming it and others pointing out the unfairness of rehabilitating Turing while ignoring other, less illustrious men* who fell foul of the authorities in the same way. While this second view seems a fair one in many ways, one suspects that Turing was singled out because of his brilliance and fame; in turn, it would seem reasonable to single him out for rehabilitation. I don’t see a major problem with that aspect of the story.**
What I do find repellent is the sheer hypocrisy of the authorities in seeking to benefit from linking themselves with Turing. Let’s not pretend there’s anything altruistic in this ‘pardoning’ lark; Turing is a gay icon, a symbol of British cunning and fortitude in wartime, and a man famously wronged. He has been voted on to lists of the Greatest Britons, and if he were alive today there is no doubt he would be feted as one of the UK’s greatest achievers. The government is well aware of this, and so the idea to pardon Turing comes less as the righting of a decades-old wrong and more as a means to curry favour with a public increasingly liberal on issues of gay rights.
Let’s consider who benefits from this. The present government, clearly, in underlining its liberal credentials. Journalists, perhaps, in having something that appears vaguely controversial to write about. And Turing’s descendants? Wait…… no, there were no descendants, and the man himself is dead now for almost six decades. So what was the pardon actually for? Just so that the authorities of the present day can engage in a mutual back-slap about how progressive we all are?
Turing deserves better than this. Rather than attempting to rewrite history through a royal pardon, surely a more fitting approach would have been to celebrate his life, first of all, and then to memorialise his sufferings. Let the conviction stand, and let the UK remember, with shame, how it treated a man who dared to live outside the social mores of his time.
* As far as I’m aware, the anti-gay laws of the time applied only to men.
** Besides, given the UK’s long history of influential people having gay relationships and in many cases getting away without arrest, I suspect the persecution of Alan Turing resulted in part from his other attributes, as a difficult, “different”, sensitive, Indian-born atheist: all factors which made him a target for bullying. And most damning of all, he refused to apologise or ‘repent’ after his arrest; one can imagine it was this which most enraged the authorities of the time.
I admit, I am a strong advocate for LGBTQ people. I often believe that the right to one’s choice of sexual orientation should never be interfered with by the state. Jack Andraka, a teenage boy who made leaps in the research for cancer detection highlighted my attention on the case of Alan Turing. Alan is Jack’s idol as they share several similarities, 1. They’re both brilliant minds and 2. They are both homosexuals. There is however one huge difference in the both of them, Jack would never be legally prosecuted for being gay as Alan had once been because it’s no longer a crime to be homosexual.
Erik had raised an interesting point to this topic. Instead of just applauding the royal prerogative of mercy as the majority have done, he had curiously pointed out why it’s wrong to pardon the poor chap. I agree with him, that the issue seems to have been politicised, as many things are. It’s inevitable, politicians will get their hands in anything if it meant publicity and more support for them (even their secretaries’ shirts, but that’s another point *winks*)
Rather than to see it as a politicised issue, I would be glad just to see the man being pardoned, even if he has been dead for more than half a century. Sure, it doesn’t change much but it does show a progress for the LGBTQ community. I would rather see it as that, than to see it as a means to show how the current UK government that they are more liberal about gay rights now. Seeing how this would never happen in my own country, to see it elsewhere is enough to restore my faith that somewhere, there is still a growing acceptance for the LGBTQ folks.
Also, Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂