Gordon Brown apologises for treatment of gay war hero Alan Turing

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Following a petition signed by 30,805 people, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has apologised on behalf of the British Government for the treatment of gay World War Two hero Alan Turing, who was forced by the courts to undergo castration to rid him of his homosexuality.

Turing famously invented the Turing machine and helped crack the German Enigma code during World War Two, ultimately helping the Allies to win the war. But he killed himself in 1954 aged 41 after being convicted of having a sexual relationship with another man.

A British court gave him the choice of going either to prison or undergoing chemical castration. He opted for the latter.

A campaign supported by major public figures including Professor Richard Dawkins, writer Ian McEwan, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and celebrity Twitterer Stephen Fry is the fourth most signed petition on the Downing Street website.

In a moving and emotional response, Mr Brown reflects on the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two and says that Turing’s treatment was “utterly unfair” that he was convicted under “homophobic laws” and “deserved so much better.” Mr Brown’s wife Sarah posted on Twitter: “Just back to hear from Gordon that he has rightly issued apology to codebreaker and hero Alan Turing.”

Peter Tatchell called the apology “welcome and commendable” but said an apology was also due to the estimated 100,000 British men convicted of similar offences.

He said: “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.

“All these men were criminalised for behaviour that was not a crime between heterosexual men and women.”

Mr Brown’s response is below:
“2009 has been a year of deep reflection – a chance for Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British experience.

“Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

“Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two 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. 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.

“But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate – by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices – that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

“So 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.”

Gordon Brown