You may have heard about the campaign to secure a posthumous government apology for Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant Britons of the 20th century.
In 1952 Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. Two years later he killed himself…
Alan Turing was given experimental chemical castration as a “treatment” and his security privileges were removed, meaning he could not continue work for the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
“This added insult and humiliation ultimately drove him to suicide,” said gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who also backs the campaign. “With Turing’s death, Britain and the world lost one of its finest intellectual minds. A government apology and posthumous pardon are long overdue.”
Turing served his country dazzlingly, as a key member of the team which cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code, and he received forced injections of estrogen in return. A reminder of the staggering homophobia of the British legal system which persisted until very, very recently.
As a mark of how far things have changed, consider Evan Davis’ interview of Peter Mandelson on the Today programme last month. The topic was unemployment, of course, not homophobia – and perhaps it’s beyond crass to note this at all – but here we have one of the BBC’s top presenters, on its flagship current affairs programme, interviewing the man who was (at the time) more or less running the country. Both are openly gay. And the British public don’t appear to give a damn.
The interview itself wasn’t particularly edifying (Mandelson was hellbent on bashing the Tories, Davis struggled valiantly to drag him back to Labour’s own policies) but its very existence tells us something about the retreat of British homophobia.
Andrew Sullivan, from across the Atlantic, also noted Britain’s huge strides, while lamenting America’s lack of similar progress:
When I came to America from Britain, the gay rights movement was way ahead here of the old country. No longer. Here is a list of the most powerful openly gay people in Britain. The whole list is a staggering contrast with the US.
It’s easy to sneer at the mores of previous generations – tougher to fight the injustices in our own. But Britain has made progress, and we should be proud of it.
As for apologising to Turing (the petition is here) – well, yes, by all means. But apologise to every other victim of these vile laws as well – war heroes or not. Wrong is wrong, whoever the victim.