Comment: Why I’m inspired by Alan Turing

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

As LGBT History Month draws to a close, LGBT youth volunteer Thomas Wales writes for PinkNews on why it’s important to remember Alan Turing.

This month has been UK LGBT History Month and currently there is history in the making with the final piece of the equality jigsaw almost in place with equal marriage; it is not far away on the rainbow coloured horizon.

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have made huge contribution to society over the years.

This year’s LGBT History Month has seen the theme of ‘science, maths and engineering’.

When it comes to historical figures, Alan Turing springs to mind foremost in relation to the theme.

Turing is an important example of how LGBT people made important contributions to scientific, mathematical and engineering advances; helped save countless lives and for many became the stimulus for the creation of the modern computer.

Yet Turing is a prime example of how society can not only destroy a genius with cruel misunderstandings through fear of their sexuality, it is also evidence of the prejudice shown towards members of the LGBT community.

Working in the IT industry I am shocked and intrigued with Turing’s life and his story. It is amazing to learn how our society in the past did not acknowledge his success because his sexuality put a big black cloud over his achievements.

Turing (1912 – 1954) is known to be the father of modern computer systems. He designed and built some of the earliest electrical, programmable, and digital computers.

Using this amazing and new technology he helped Britain to win the Second World War by cracking the Nazi’s Enigma machine code. By cracking the code he was able to use this vital intelligence to our advantages and was thought by most that this development won the war.

Despite Turing’s huge contribution to computing – the part he played in the war effort – his personal life was up for discussion and in 1952 he was arrested and convicted for homosexuality, like other gay men at that time.

To avoid prison, he had to agree to a process called ‘chemical castration’ and have a course of hormone therapy to reduce his libido. These were injections of oestrogen for an entire year which resulted in bodily changes such as development of breasts and immense mental issues due to chemical imbalances in the brain.

One of his colleagues commented on Alan Turing’s life saying: “Fortunately the authorities did not know during the war that Turing was a homosexual. Otherwise we might have lost it!”

This is also true in many aspects of the war as LGBT people were not allowed to fight in the British Army as they were seen as a risk to National security.

Two years after his chemical castration on 7th June 1954 Turing committed suicide by biting into a poisoned apple. Many believe that this was due to insanity brought on by the chemicals that had robbed him of all sex drive and of the most intellectual mathematical mind that he had built a career and made a life from.

Today we see the treatment given to Turing as disgraceful. I believe that if Alan Turing was allowed to have lived a true life without sexual prejudice and persecution then the UK would have been the leaders in computing.

Turing’s case was only one out of many LGBT people who were incarcerated or ‘chemical castrated’ after the war.

In 2013 we are so lucky to be in the position we are in, and we should remember the struggles and trauma that LGBT people have gone through to fight for equal rights.

There is still so much work that we can do for equality in both law and attitudes – so let’s make change, make history, LGBT history.

Regardless of sexuality everyone and anyone can make a huge difference for the better to the world in which we all share!

Thomas Wales is an LGBT youth volunteer. He tweets @thomaswales