June is a special month indeed. Not only is it celebrated as Pride Month internationally, but it also marks the birthday of British Mathematician Alan Mathison Turing. Famously known as the 'Father of Computer Science', the fields to which Turing had significant contributions were artificial intelligence, biology, computer science, cryptanalysis, logic, mathematics, philosophy, and many more. Later, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in March 1951. However, his last days were spent in utter disrespect– owing to the absence of acceptance of non-binary individuals in the erstwhile British Empire.
Born on 23rd June 1912 in London, Turing was the son of a civil servant. He received his education from a reputed private school, followed by studying Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He joined the Government Code and Cypher School in 1938.
In 1939, at the beginning of the war with Germany, he shifted to the wartime headquarters of the organisation at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. It is here that he would confront the riddles of Enigma– the main cypher machine of the German Navy used to encode radio communication.
By spring 1940, Turing and his fellow cryptanalysts devised Bombe– the machine to decode Enigma. For the rest of the war, this machine provided the Allies with vast quantities of military intelligence. In less than two years, it was decoding up to 39,000 intercepted messages each month. It rose to the point where it was decoding two messages every minute, day and night. The same year, Turing also invented the first systematic method to break messages encoded by another German cypher machine called Tunny.
Turing's work, undoubtedly, cut the conflict short and saved thousands of lives. After WWII ended, Turing was awarded Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his outstanding contribution to the war.
Mistreatment Due to Sexuality
In March 1952, owing to his relations with a 19-year-old Manchester man, Turing was convicted of "gross indecency". At the time in Britain, homosexuality was a crime. Consequently, Turing was sentenced to "hormone therapy", which was later revealed as chemical castration.
But his nightmares did not just end there. Now with a criminal record, Turing could not work at the government's post-war code-breaking centre in the headquarters. He spent the rest of his life in Manchester.
Reportedly, just when Turing was in the middle of yet another scientific breakthrough, one day in 1954, he was discovered dead in his bed due to Cyanide poisoning. The official verdict was that he died by suicide, although there was no evidence to support that. Multiple theories suggest multiple reasons behind his poisoning. Some say the poisoning was a side effect of the hormone therapy; some say he had been killed by secret services, while some say that the cyanide could have reached him through fumes from the laboratory adjacent to his room. Whatever be the reason, it was widely accepted that his death caused immeasurable loss to the scientific community.
Acceptance of Injustice: The Alan Turing Law
In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21 in England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the law was changed in 1980 and 1982, respectively.
By the early 2000s, Turing's prosecution for being gay had become infamous. In August 2009, people started a petition to demand a pardon to the late mathematician, which finally won an official apology. Speaking on behalf of the British government, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised in public for the "utterly unfair treatment" meted out to Turing.
However, the demand for the pardon continued. In December 2011, an e-petition — having more than 34,000 signatories — was started on the government website. Queen Elizabeth II granted the posthumous royal pardon to Turing in 2013.
This led to calls for pardoning all the others convicted by the same law and the subsequent launch of a petition in 2015. Following this, Lord Sharkey introduced a Private Member's Bill. Ultimately, this led to the 'Alan Turing Law'– the law that pardons men who were convicted or cautioned (under the erstwhile law criminalising homosexuality), according to BBC News.
As of January 2017, almost 49,000 men have been posthumously pardoned under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.
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