The buzz had been getting louder and louder all week. She was going to do it. The Queen was going to do it. And she did. On Christmas Eve 2013, Queen Elizabeth II pardoned Alan Turing, 61 years after his death, for being gay.
Alan was born in Paddington London on June 23, 1912. His great grandfather was a general in the Bengal Army and his father worked for the ICS (Indian Civil Service) in British India. Alan began showing signs of excellence at a very early age, and by 6 was getting remarks from his educators to his advanced knowledge. When he was 13 years old he began attending the Sherborne School and as his first term began, so did the 1926 General Strike in Britain, when 1.7 million service workers began a 10 day strike protesting the lowering of their wages. So determined was Alan to go to school, he biked 60 miles by himself to the school, even staying overnight at an Inn halfway through the ride. His thirst for knowledge and ease with understanding concepts often drove him to do the things that needed to be done to further his intellect.
While he was at Sherborne his teachers became quite discouraged at his sole focus on science and math and his refusal to invest any education in classic literature and history, but her persisted and continued to excel. At 16 he was introduced to Albert Einstein’s work and not only understood it, but was able to expound upon it with much ease. Also while at Sherborne he developed a very good friendship with Christopher Morcom, a fellow pupil that also shared an interest in math. Turing would later call on his discussions with Morcom for inspiration in times of low motivation. At 18, Turing was profoundly affected when Morcom died of Bovine Tuberculosis that he had contracted by drinking tainted milk. His faith was completely shattered and he proclaimed himself an atheist who believed that all phenomena, even the ones contained within the workings of the mind, had a materialistic explanation, not a spiritual one.
He went on to college at Kings College in Cambridge and studied under Alonzo Church at Princeton University. In 1938 he obtained his PhD from Princeton. He went on to study and work for many universities and had a love for cryptology. He also worked with British and American Intelligence during the war as a codebreaker, deciphering German encrypted code. He had a high clearance level, and was appreciated by both countries as an asset in the code breaking areana. In 1941 Alan proposed to fellow cryptologist Joan Clarke while they were working together for Bletchley Park during World War II. Their engagement was short-lived as Alan couldn’t live with himself lying to her, so confessed he was a homosexual. Reports claim Joan remained unphased and still willing to marry, but Alan had 2nd thoughts, and couldn’t go through with it.
In January of 1952 Alan began a relationship with Arnold Murray, a 19 year old unemployed Manchester man he had met just before Christmas outside the Regal Cinema on Oxford Road. On the 23rd of January, Alan’s home was burglarized by one of Arnold’s acquaintances, so he went to the police station to report it. During the police investigation, Alan admitted to having a sexual relationship with Murray. At this time in the UK, homosexuality was a criminal offense. Both men were arrested and charged with gross indecency. Alan refused to admit that he had done anything wrong, nor that he had committed any punishable offense, but was convinced by his brothers and lawyers to plead guilty. He was given the choice of imprisonment or probation. He chose probation which included chemical castration. He was given stilboestrol, a synthetic estrogen that removes libido and induces impotence. Not to mention the dozens of, at the time unknown, psychological side effects, for one year. He was removed from his position with British Intelligence and was never allowed back into the United States again. Because most of his life work was of the highest secrecy, his accomplishments and honors would not and could not be known to the public. Many of his works are still under highly classified protection to date.
On June 8, 1954 Alan’s cleaner found him dead. The coroner’s report cited cyanide poisoning as the cause of death and that it was a suicide. Those closest to Turing spoke of his fascination with Snow White and the 7 Dwarves and noted a half-eaten apple by his bed. While the apple was never officially tested for cyanide, many have come to believe Alan Turing killed himself re-enacting his favorite scene from Snow White, having boiled the apple in a cyanide brew. Other theories have been suggested, but no one knows for sure.
In 1999 TIME magazine named Turing as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century for his code breaking work in WWII, and in 2002 Turing made 21 on the BBC’s Top 100 Britons. He’s been honored over time for his innovative ideas that helped spawn the first computer, and for his heroic efforts saving lives in WWII by breaking German Naval encrypted code, a feat no one but him had even dared to attempt, and now he will no longer also have the title of homosexual criminal over his head. Now he is just the brilliant Alan Turing who did so much for the UK and for the US. And who also just happens to be a very proud, unashamed, unapologetic Gay Man.
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