Alan Turing has been posthumously pardoned for being convicted of being gay, the barbaric and vicious persecution for which eventually drove him to take his own life.
I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this one.
Firstly, for anyone asking “why Turing?” I have to say you don’t understand the iconic nature of Turing to British GBLT people because he symbolised so much.
He was a prime example of a gay man, in history standing up and performing an incredible service for his county – and in one of the most iconic conflicts of our history. He is an example of a gay man who achieved incredible thing with a lasting legacy that has benefitted not only the country, but the entire world. This is what we are capable of. These are the people you condemn with your homophobic.
Because of this incredible thing, he is also iconic of the toxicity of homophobia. A homophobia that not only persecuted him to death despite of the vast debt owed to this man, but also despite of the great things he never had the chance to achieve. That is the waste of homophobia. That is how overwhelming it is
And this toxicity of homophobia went further, because he was erased. History didn’t remember him. He was removed from it, not just in our schools but in our media (there are television shows and film adaptations and even documentaries out there about the work of Bletchley Park and early computing. Guess who is missing from them/made straight?). The reason why he is so well known now is because British GBLT people fought passionately to make it so – because it was so outrageous that this great man was being removed from history because he was one of us. How dare they? How dare they pretend he never existed?! How dare they make him straight? We fought and we fought hard to make sure he was remembered again. You’ll notice how many monuments to him appear in traditionally gay neighbourhood. You’ll notice how FEW monuments there are to him that predate 2000.
He is symbolic of the untold masses of GBLT heroes and ancestors who we have lost, who have been removed from the pages of history and who we will never be able to reclaim.
Alan Turing wasn’t just a great man who was evilly persecuted – but he is also a great symbol.
So where do my conflicting feelings come in?
My conflict comes in not just because it’s a gesture that doesn’t change the past so much as try to play the “we’re so much better now” card (I would actually rather have more comprehensive history of GBLT people, our achievements and the persecution of us entered into the school curriculum to mark his horrendously unjust death more than anything else) and is therefore a pretty easy bandwagon for even the most homophobic of politician to jump on (notably, however, a rather huge amount of them didn’t) while at the same time we’ve seen political reticence (to say the least) on dealing with banning reparative therapy, doing something substantive about homophobic bullying, extreme homophobic discrimination in the asylum and immigration system, our woefully poor and homophobic sex education laws, the problems of homophobia in religious schools, homophobia in sports and a series of cuts that are, as with most cuts, hitting GBLT people and other marginalised people far harder than most (for some examples among many –organisations like the Association of GBLT police officers have had their funding cut. Legal aid has been gutted, homeless services butchered etc etc).
My discomfort comes from the idea that what happened to Turing was wrong BECAUSE HE WAS A HERO. And yes, his being a national hero is an extra slap in the face – but what was done to him and the gazillion of other men throughout history. I don’t want “incredible service to the country” to be the benchmark we have to meet where this kind of evil treatment. What was done to him was evil and equally evil when done to GBLT people who didn’t achieve the amazing things he did. Of course, on the flip side, Turing’s pardon is supposed to be indicative of a collective regret of all those injustices – but it’s weak.
And some of these people are still alive, by the way. After all, we were criminally convicting gay men of being gay while being in the military into the 90s. That’s the 1990s. Yes, it was a crime. Yes it was enforced. Yes they had a criminal record. There was a scandal within the last THREE YEARS of these men being dragged into police stations to give DNA samples for the database because they were convicted criminals. Yes… there was quite a lot of noise made about that one. Men were convicted of child abuse for having sex with partners who were underage – if they were gay, but not if they were straight.
And yes, they can apply to have their convictions struck – but why do they have to apply? Why isn’t it automatic? And is that enough? These people are not dead and we’re not reduced to symbolic gestures to recognise the wrongness of what was done to them. They went to prison. They lost jobs, they lost careers, that official persecution has left lasting harm and we can do a damn site more for them than just give symbolic gestures.
There’s also, of course, the fact it’s a “pardon” which validates the crime committed and FORGIVES Turing for it – which I do not like, do not like at all. Yes pardons can be used different ways, but the implication is there
I’m not alone in this, I know a lot of GBLT people are also torn several ways about this, especially GBLT people in Britain. There’s a lot of mental battling here.