Saturday, 23 June 2012

Alan Turing's Birthday

Today is Alan Turing’s birthday, if he were alive he would be 100 years old

Alan Turing was one of those people who changed the world. His work, his genius was incredible. He is, deservedly, considered one of the fathers of computing and it’s not an exaggeration to say his work had a pivotal effect on the outcome of the Second World War, certainly in helping Britain survive the constant U-Boat attacks. He did work in Mathematics I won’t even pretend to understand.

In short, he is a man whose name should have a guaranteed place in the history books.

Yet it did not. I grew up not knowing his name, not once was it mentioned in the history books. A depressing number of people have never heard of him. Many of those who knew his name didn’t realise the sheer magnitude of what he’d achieved. A large number of those who had heard of him hadn’t learned that he was gay and fewer still had heard what had happened to him.

Because Alan Turing was gay. As a gay man he was convicted and branded a criminal, as a gay man he lost his security clearance that allowed him to provide us with his brilliant work, and as a gay man he was chemically castrated. He endured, but his writings showed a man who hated what had happened to him, until he finally committed suicide.

We killed one of our heroes.

We can’t change that. But now, today, he’s remembered again. I think it’s no lie to say more people know his name now than even 10 years ago. We’ve campaigned to have the government apologise, we’ve campaigned to have him recognised, we’ve campaigned to have the crimes against him noticed and we’ve campaigned to have him remembered. This has been an incredible victory.

This is why it’s desperately important we look back at history. There are GBLT heroes in the past, there are GBLT role models, there are GBLT people who changed the world and made our presents. But they are often hidden, or forced into the closet by their homophobic society or generations of homophobic historians – and we have to find them while we still can, if we still can.