Queen Elizabeth II Issues a Pardon for the Conviction of One of the Most Brilliant Minds in Human History on Charges of Homosexuality
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Queen Elizabeth II Issues a Pardon for the Conviction of One of the Most Brilliant Minds in Human History on Charges of Homosexuality

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | December 24, 2013 | Comments ()


One of my favorite things on this site is Steven Lloyd Wilson and Wojtek’s Storytellers series, which has almost nothing to do with pop-culture. They highlight important bits of history and some of the amazing people from the past that do not necessarily pop up in our history texts. If history class were half as interesting as the Storytellers series, there’d be a lot more unemployed history PhDs in the world.

One of my favorite Storytellers posts was on Alan Turing, a man I had never heard of until Steven wrote this amazing piece: The Heartbreaking Life and Death of Alan Turing. It’s one of those situations, like hearing a word you’d never heard before, where suddenly, you start hearing that word everywhere you go. That’s what happening with Turing: Steven’s piece pushed the man into my consciousness, and suddenly, I began seeing pieces about Alan Turing everywhere (to be fair, they may have always been there; I simply didn’t notice).

Anyway, Turing was a life-saving code breaker during World War II and a mathematician who adapted Kurt Gödel’s mathematics of logic into the theoretical application that became the basis for all computers. He was a brilliant man. He also happened to be gay during a time when homosexuality was a criminal offense.

As Steven writes:

Having invented the information age, revolutionized cryptography by spending the war years breaking every code the Nazis could devise, and planted the seeds of artificial intelligence and computer science, Turing was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Of course, he committed the most heinous crime short of communism imaginable in postwar Britain. He was homosexual.

Not needing him to break any more codes, and not imagining at the time much use for those computing machines, the British government saw fit to convict him under the same statute that ruined Oscar Wilde’s life fifty years previously. Given the choice of imprisonment or chemical castration, Turing chose the latter. He dosed an apple with cyanide two years later, killing himself with Eve’s temptation and Newton’s inspiration. He was only 41 years old.

Had Turing not committed suicide, there’s no telling how many more contributions he could’ve made to society. It was a devastatingly sad fate, and while there’s nothing that the British government can do to bring back Turing and give us all those years of his life back, yesterday they at least did the honorable thing and formally pardoned him for his conviction on charges of homosexuality.

The pardon had to come from Queen Elizabeth II because, for some ungodly reason, Prime Minister David Cameron denied him a pardon last year. Why? I have no idea. But his refusal to do so kicked it upstairs to the Queen, who issued a rare “royal prerogative of mercy” so that Turing’s sentence — prison or chemical castration — would be considered “unjust and discriminatory.”

It’s a small gesture, and one that’s long past due, but as someone who only recently became familiar with this brilliant man, it is appreciated. Hopefully, in pardoning Turing, the Queen brings more attention to his works, his mind, and his legacy.

(Source: NYTimes)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Emsmum

    Steve Jobs used an apple with a bite taken out of it on his computers
    to honor Alan Turing

  • Jim

    I like to think Liz said "Oh, for F*CK's sake!", got Cameron out of the way with a sharp elbow in the ribs, hit the "Pardon" button and said "OK, who's for cake?"

    I choose to think that way because today is the 26th Christmas my hubby and I have spent as a family -- thinking of Turing alone and so lost brings tears to my eyes.

  • BWeaves

    Jim, I can just imagine your Queen Liz scenario, except in my head she says, "OK, who's for Dubonnet and gin?"

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    The Alan Turing piece is one of my most favorite from this site, and the queen's pardon makes me feel like the Grinch when his heart grows three sizes.

  • maureenc

    Huzzah! Now the British government is safe from an emergent AI seeking revenge for the persecution of one of their creators. Also, it would have been awkward if Benedict Cumberbatch were to castigate the British government for still not pardoning Turing during his Oscar acceptance speech in 2015.

    On a more serious note - you know what proper atonement would be? Not just pardoning the other men prosecuted for consensual sex under the Labouchere Amendment, but for the British government--for all of the Allied governments-- to take a more active role in stopping the persecution of LGBTQ people all over the world.

    A gay man did as much as anyone to save Britain, America, and Western Civilization. It's time to repay the debt.

  • JustOP

    Because our prime minister, David Cameron, is a tory. A backwards, smug, freakishly large foreheaded degenerate of a man catering towards all the old cronies and crooks whom have yet to abandon him in his party. This is the same guy who is pushing a law to make pornography blocked by default from ISPs on the grounds of 'won't somebody think of the children', blames 'benefit cheats and immigrants' for the economy whilst raking in fat stacks from the bankers and media whom actually instigated it, and is covering for his own parties past - ie. convicting Turing. Just a complete turd of a man.

    Thank god for the Queen.

  • Stephen Nein

    Some context on Cameron's refusal to pardon Mr. Turing:

    The Conservative plurality government (which holds power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which makes them a weak government) refused to pardon Turning because the prior Liberal government of PM Gordon Brown didn't in 2009. Both hid behind the fact that Turing's conviction was legal and proper - at the time - while modern sensibilities see the injustice. (I love how governments, even ones opposed to the prior, love to cover the cover the asses of the prior. Because if they don't, Civilization Might Fall! And the next batch of bastards won't cover the sins we're committing now).

    I am somewhat more gratified that Queen Elizabeth's state issued the pardon than the Government - she at least came of age in and to the throne at the time of the prosecution of Mr. Turing and his subsequent death. While she is not the government, she does represent the Kingdom in a fashion more temporal - it was the mores and culture she came from in the 1940's & 1950's that persecuted Turing. Governments, the parties in power are only there for years or decade or two at most, and they can be weasely little things, made of some of the most craven individuals. That the Queen, someone whom can remember the homosexual witch hunts from her own life, has accepted the necessity of pardoning Turning makes me more optimistic for the future.

  • ingres77

    You know what would be super impressive? If she pardoned the thousands of other people wrongfully prosecuted, imprisoned, and saddled with the shame and infamy of public humiliation.

    It's wonderful that Turing got his pardon. But there are many, many other families out there with no such closure.

  • Zirza

    While I agree with you, the sign on the wall that homosexuality is no longer something dangerous and shameful might be comforting to the families those who suffered at the hands of the same archaic law. But you're right, of course - they, too, should have received a pardon long ago.

  • ingres77

    Turing wasn't the only person who "killed himself" (if, in fact, he did. There's some disagreement on that) because of this law.

    Many men were castrated or imprisoned, and still others committed suicide. Alan Turing is an important historical figure, but he was still just a man like all the others. If he deserves a pardon (he does), they all do.

  • BWeaves

    The Queen pardoned Turing! About fucking time!

  • emmalita

    I rarely comment on the Storyteller pieces, but I love them and hope they continue.

  • BWeaves

    Here! Here!

  • JoannaRobinson

    I predict nothing is going to make me cry more than Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. NOTHING. http://i2.mirror.co.uk/incomin...

  • Okay, I'm already on the verge of tears just thinking about this. Dammit. He's just so dapper.

  • Mrcreosote

    And it's because of things like this, the lost potential as a society and the personal destruction of life and happiness that when someone in the public eye starts blathering about their biblically inspired certainty that homosexuality is an abomination that they need to be shamed and ostracized. They can have the opinion all they want, they just need to take some damn heat for it.

  • Stephen Nein

    All I have to say is - Do Not Read Fredric Rich's Christian Nation. My tolerance for their opinion is pretty short right now.

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