May 16, 2016
When I read the British government’s recent advisory, warning its LGBT citizens about travel in the US because of certain state laws promoting discrimination, I thought about Britain’s own history. Remember the movie, The Imitation Game? It featured Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematician and cryptographer who has been called the father of modern computing. The movie told the story of Turing’s cracking the Nazis’ notorious “enigma code,” thereby helping bring an end to World War II and saving many lives.
But the movie was more than a code-breaking thriller; it also informed viewers of the sad ending of Turing’s life because he was a gay man living at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. He lost his security clearance and was fired from his work with the British intelligence service. Since same-sex sexual expression was considered a criminal offense, he was given a choice between chemical castration or imprisonment. After the devastating effects of the hormone regimen he had submitted to as the only way to avoid prison, he apparently saw no reason to go on living. He committed suicide at age 41. Any further contributions he could have made to computer development and other areas of math and science were lost to the nation and the world.
Just this month (April, 2016), Turing was in the news again. At the urging of an LGBT rights organization, an apology was issued by the director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the espionage service for which Turing had worked when it had operated under its old name, Government Code and Cypher School (GCSS). The director, Robert Hannigan, told the Stonewall organization that the suffering and exclusion of LGBT people like Turing “was our loss, and it was the nation’s loss too, because we cannot know what [those] who were dismissed would have gone on to do and achieve. We did not learn our lesson from Turing.”
If only those governors, legislatures, and others who want laws to discriminate against LGBT people in the United States today— including many who call for discrimination in the name of Christianity— would take Hannigan’s words to heart, what a difference it could make . Think of the talent that has been rejected and wasted, the suffering that has been endured, the lives that have been lost, the diminished possibilities of what churches and nations could have accomplished—all because the world has over and over again refused to value its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
See “GCHQ apologises for ‘horrifying’ treatment of Alan Turing and discrimination against other LGBT people” from the UK publication, The Independent.
The British Government’s posthumous pardon of Turing in 2013 (short video and text from BBC News)