Alan Turing (1912-1954)
He was a genius and a martyr. Alan Turing was the father of the modern computer. His life was brief, but it was filled with so many amazing accomplishments that he is remembered as one of the greatest minds in history. His accomplishments in computing and code-breaking are well known, and I don’t need to document them here. This great website has a fairly detailed biography about him that is worth reading
I’m most interested him Turing’s personal life and criminal conviction. As a gay man, Turing was involved in relationships with other men. This led to his arrest, trial, and conviction in 1952. He failed to agree that who he was was wrong, but rather than go to prison he agreed to injections of estrogen, known as a “chemical castration.” Beyond this punishment, he was ostracized by his peers. The suspicion and isolation almost certainly contributed in his decision to end his own life in 1954 at the age of 42.
I keep arriving at this subject. It is important that we remember our past as human beings. 64 years ago, a mere blip in our history, one of our greatest minds was told by our Western society that he was less than. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and left constantly under suspicion by his country simply for being himself. The British government and people tore him down to the point that he couldn’t bear to be in that world any longer. What was gained? Nothing. What was lost? Who knows how much more Turing would have contributed to the worlds of math, technology, and science.
In the same year that Alan Turing died, a committee was appointed to look into the law used to convict him. In 1957, that committee advised that homosexuality should not be illegal. Ten years later, the law was changed. And in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized on behalf of the British government for what it had done to Turing.
We are living in a time where everything is immediate. We see ourselves in our current situations and examine the way we are being treated by how we are feeling about it now, and how it relates to us today. I think it’s easy to find offensiveness in that mindset. To always examine your place in the moment and wonder why things aren’t as perfect as they ought to be. Constantly working toward the goal of perfection is good. I just wonder if we aren’t leaving behind the important lessons of history that can add context to where we are today. I find it so beautiful that young LGBT folks are so free to express themselves. I love Pride parades with all of their noise and exuberance. Strive always for more, but be grateful that we are here and now in this time. We don’t have to go very far back to see a lot of darkness.