Alan Turing born 23 June 1912 (d. 1954)
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance to the modern world of the mathematical, philosophical, and cryptographic work of Alan Mathison Turing. A gifted mathematician, Turing is remembered today as one of the founders of computer science.
The gay community remembers Turing not only for his work on computers and the cracking of the Enigma machine code during World War II, but also because of his needless, horrific death. He committed suicide at the age of 41, two years after his arrest, conviction, and forced chemical castration for his homosexuality.
After pioneering work in computer and software design and in artificial intelligence, and after being honoured for his war work with an OBE in 1946 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951 at an unusually young age, in 1952 Turing's life took an abrupt turn for the worse.
In 1948, Turing had moved to Manchester after accepting a position as Deputy Director of the Royal Society Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester, where he soon became involved with a young working class man, Murray Arnold, who would later break into his home.
After reporting the burglary, Turing was arrested and prosecuted for what was then known under British law as Gross Indecency, a section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, under which Oscar Wilde had also been charged in 1895. Even through this ordeal, he remained open and unapologetic about his sexuality. Turing was offered a stark choice: go to prison or submit to the administration of the hormone oestrogen. Intended to suppress his libido, it was a type of chemical castration.
This treatment left Turing impotent. He also developed breasts. He found his security clearances revoked and he was unable to continue his pioneering work. Two years after his arrest, and one year after this coerced and barbaric 'therapy', Alan Turing killed himself.
He left no note, and the circumstances of his death were inadequately investigated and perhaps left deliberately murky to spare his mother anguish. She believed his death to be accidental. Most commentators believe, however, that he committed suicide by eating an apple smeared with cyanide-laced jam.
Despite the fact that he may have been the most brilliant scientist of his generation, someone whose work in deciphering the German codes during World War II played a major role in achieving Allied victory, Turing was discarded and deemed a security risk because of his homosexuality.
The city of Manchester has done something to celebrate Turing's life and achievements and make amends for the cruel treatment he received - there is now a major road called Alan Turing Way, and a statue of Turing [right] in Sackville Park, near to Manchester's Gay Village.
There is also a statue [above] at the University of Surrey, close to Turing's childhood home in Guildford. In June 2007 a new statue of Turing was unveiled at Bletchley Park, where he carried out his wartime work.
Read more about the life of this incredible man.
The play and film Breaking The Code are about the life and work of Alan Turing.
On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.
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