Will Britain Apologize for Prosecuting Gay Mathematician?

9.1.2009

By Jessanne Collins

Quick history lesson: 55 years ago a British mathematician and World War II code breaker committed suicide after the revelation that he was gay ruined his personal and professional life. Alan Turing, credited by some as the founder of computer science, was one of an estimated 100,000 gay men prosecuted by the British government under the same "gross indecency" law used to jail Oscar Wilde. He was chemically castrated after his 1952 conviction, but by many accounts he was most devastated by having his security privileges revoked, which ended his life's work at the UK Government Communications Headquarters.

To commemorate the anniversary of the loss of a wartime hero and brilliant intellectual, more than 20,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Prime Minister Gordon Brown issue an official posthumous apology, a plea that's been echoed by author Ian McEwan, scientist Richard Dawkins, and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. The international version of the petition can be found here.

The appeal was started by computer scientist John Graham-Cumming, who says its aim is symbolic, since Turing has no known surviving family. "The most important thing to me is that people hear about
Alan Turing and realize his incredible impact on the modern world, and
how terrible the impact of prejudice was on him," he said.

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