Friday, September 18, 2009

British Prime Minister's apology to gay war hero, Alan Turing, not good enough?

Writer and activist, Nicolas Chinardet, has written a passionate critique of the recent apology made by England's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to gay World War 2 hero, Alan Turing (pictured). Who was Alan Turing? Turing was a British mathematician, whose persistence and brilliance was the key to breaking the Nazi's secret Enigma communications code. Although his efforts have long been regarded by historians as fundamental in steering the war back in favour of the allied forces, Turing was eventually disgraced and discarded by the government he helped to protect, because he was homosexual. Later convicted of gross indecency for having sex with a man, Turing was forced to receive female hormone treatments as a means of reducing his sex drive. Sadly, as a result of this, Turing committed suicide in 1954, at the age of 41.

A stage play called Breaking The Code was successfully produced in London's West End and on Broadway. The play starred gifted British actor, Derek Jacobi, who later appeared in the 1996 BBC film version. Jacobi won a Broadcasting Press Guild Award, a GLAAD Media Award and was nominated for two BAFTA TV awards, for Best Single Drama and Best Actor. I've seen the movie and Jacobi is wonderful in the role as Alan Turing. It is well worth checking out.

An apology is not enough, Mr Brown by Nicolas Chinardet:
As news comes that [Britsh Prime Minister] Gordon Brown has taken the highly unusual step to actually grant the demanded apology, I can't help but wonder once again, as does Peter Tatchell and no doubt a few others, why Alan Turing should be singled out. Why should he be the only one deserving of an apology for the "utterly unfair" treatment he has received at the hand of the government of the time?

Tatchell, in his lukewarm praise of Brown's apology as "commendable", reminds us that an "estimated 100,000 British men [...] were also convicted of consenting, victimless same-sex relationships during the twentieth century". And then there were the others before that whose lives were destroyed (all too often literally) for who they were and who they loved.

An apology is, of course, a potent symbol, but what is an apology by people who weren't involved to someone who is dead going to achieve? Especially when so many inequalities, humiliations and rebuffs are still visited on LGBT people today around the world. Indeed, at the same time that Brown was apologising to a British citizen for the treatment he received for his homosexuality, another British citizen was being killed in Jamaica for the exact same sorry reason.

Finally, let's not forget, at the risk of seeming ungrateful perhaps, that while the Prime Minister may have apologised, Turing is still officially a criminal. He and all the others should be pardoned, not solely apologised to. What are you going to do about Mr Brown? An apology is not enough. Read more here.

Gay wartime code-breaker Alan Turing gets U.K. apology

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized Friday for the "inhumane" treatment of Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency for being homosexual at a time when it was illegal in Britain.

A mathematician, Turing helped crack Nazi Germany's Enigma communications code, which was a turning point in the war. He was later convicted of gross indecency for having sex with a man and forcibly treated with female hormones to reduce his sex drive. Turing committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41.

Turing was also known for his pioneering work on artificial intelligence and computer science, including his development of the "Turing Test" to measure whether a machine can think. One of the most prestigious honors in computing, the $250,000 US Turing Prize, is named for him.

"The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely .… We're sorry, you deserved so much better," Brown said in his apology published Friday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, as well as on the prime minister's office website.

The apology comes after an internet petition garnered more than 30,000 signatures supporting the move. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the apology was "most welcome and commendable." (CBC)

Visit: The Alan Turing Home Page