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The Alan Turing Law – a Formal Pardon for Unpardonable Homophobia

Image source: Heritage images/Getty images
Image source: Heritage images/Getty images

Theresa May’s government has committed to posthumously pardoning thousands of gay men who were convicted under ‘gross indecency’ crimes. As promised in the 2015 Conservative Manifesto, the new measure will be named the ‘Alan Turing Law’, and it has been estimated that 49,000 men found guilty of homosexual practices will be pardoned. Although homosexuality was a criminal offence in England and Wales until 1967, this is the first measure introduced to acquit all those convicted.

In an interview with the Independent, a spokesperson for Theresa May has revealed that, ‘this government is committed to introducing posthumous pardons for people with certain historical sexual offence convictions who would be innocent of any crime now. We will bring forward our proposals in due course.’

The law is named after influential computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing, who famously decrypted Nazi code messages in WWII. Winston Churchill once said that Turing  ‘made the single biggest contribution to the allied victory.’ In March 1952, Turing was brought to trial after authorities discovered his relationship with unemployed Arnold Murray, who was 20 years Turing’s junior. Both men were charged with gross indecency, under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. Given a choice between probation with hormonal treatment, and imprisonment, Turing opted for the former and was injected with the synthetic oestrogen, diethylstilbestrol, over the course of one year, rendering him impotent and giving him gynaecomastia. He took his own life in 1954, at the age of 41.

The measure has been introduced almost two years after Turing’s family petitioned Downing Street to posthumously pardon gay men convicted under ‘indecent’ practices. The petition was signed by more than 500,000 people in 49 countries, and was supported by figures such as Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch. Turing was formally pardoned in 2013, after Gordon Brown issued an official apology in 2009.

Playwright and journalist Matthew Todd, who was involved in the petition’s drafting, stated at the time that, ‘I feel sure that Alan Turing would have also wanted justice for everybody. Generations of gay and bisexual men were forced to live their lives in a state of terror…Men convicted of gross indecency were often considered to have brought huge shame on their families and many took their own lives. We still live with the legacy of this period today and it’s about time the country addressed this appalling part of our history.’

The law comes a little too late for thousands of gay men, whose lives were overturned by discriminatory and archaic legislation. Let’s not even begin on the measure’s overlooking of the innumerable injustices caused to other parts of the LGBT community.


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