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Alan Turing's Sexuality 'Forgotten' at Statue Unveiling

Today, a statue of Alan Turing will be unveiled at Bletchley Park, honoring the man who has come to be known as Britain's greatest inventor.

TuringstatueDuring World War II, Turing, who is also known as the father of modern computing, devised the Turing Bombe, a codebreaking device that was used to decipher the Nazi enigma codes, up to 3,000 messages per day.

American billionaire and philanthropist Sidney Frank funded the new statue, according to The Inquirer:

"The life-size one and a half ton statue is made from half a million pieces of five hundred million year old Welsh slate. Stone which would have been in Nazi control, if Turing had not had the mathematical genius to crack the German Naval Enigma messages during world war two. Later, his Bombe machine was to provide a body of work that provided the foundations on which the modern computer age was created. Of the people who have heard of him, few know the proper context of his death. 'The only Alan Turing I know of is the mathematician, logician, and cryptographer who died in 1954 from eating an apple,' said one surveyee. The origin of the Apple symbol is meant to be a tribute to Turing."

The reason thought to be why Turing killed himself with the apple, which was laced with cyanide, is because Turing had been convicted just two years earlier of 'gross indecency' after it was discovered that he had been in a homosexual relationship. Due to that conviction, he had been ordered to undergo hormone therapy.

Turing, a brilliant inventor and mathematician, was pushed to the fringes despite his talents just because he was gay. Sound like a few Arabic linguists we know?

So, the press release announcing this new statue makes no mention of the fact that Turing was gay. Gay.com UK were sent the press release and contacted Bletchley Park. They wrote back:

"Many thanks for your email. I completely understand your comments. However, in the context of the statue and Bletchley Park, the press release relates entirely to his invaluable work during the war years and is not in any way an attempt to whitewash his sexuality. This isn’t to say that his sexuality isn’t important in the overall story of the man and that he wasn’t treated abominably in later years. However, with very limited funds and resources, the Park is not able to tell the full life stories of the many heroes and heroines who made such a difference to the outcome of the war."

They later issued a fuller apology. Said director Simon Greenish: "The press release did not include a statement about him being gay, which perhaps it could have done, this was not a deliberate ommision (sic) but, I certainly accept, could have been an opportunity which was missed."

Said Gay.com's Stewart Who: "It's a bit like talking about Martin Luther King, but not mentioning that he's black."

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  1. I must be missing the bigger picture here. Are people upset b/c they didn't mention he was gay in the press release? The statue is to give tribute for what he did during the war not about him being gay. I don't think anyone really cares if he was gay or not but only about the good thing he did during WWII. And about the comment of saying MLK was the leader of the civil rights movement and not saying he was black is not a good comparison. The civil rights movement had to do with MLK race. Code breaking and being an inventor had nothing to do with Turings sexuality.

    And before everyone gets on my case, I have no problem with Turing being gay. If there was an autobiography or movie on him I would expect there to be mention of his homosexual relations and I would be offended if there were not, but this is just a statue celebrating his achievement in this field.

    Posted by: Matt | Jun 19, 2007 9:04:30 AM


  2. One can only imagine the differences that could be taking place on this Earth if not for Mr. Turing's genius. While we strive today to make gayness incidental to who we are and to how we are perceived, it remains essential to know that our modern life may not be anything as we know it without the contributions of one gay man. And yet even his day, this hero was thought to be diseased by homosexuality, and was scorned for it. We have come some distance, but, clearly, not nearly far enough. We are still under the tyranny of the majority, a majority we know to be very wrong.

    Posted by: Bill | Jun 19, 2007 9:11:29 AM


  3. Matt, his "homosexual relations"?!?! He was gay, that makes it sound like he was a married guy on the DL.

    The comparison is apt. The reason he killed himself was because of how a society that basically owed its existence to him, couldn't handle that he loved another man. I think that's fairly intrinsic to the overall story of his service to his country...actually the world.

    Posted by: nycredneck | Jun 19, 2007 9:13:07 AM


  4. ...in the context of the statue unveiling, I'm having a hard time seeing where his gayness is relevant. Perhaps the persecution he suffered as a gay man could have been woven in, but it seems incidental to the situation at hand.

    Posted by: Jason | Jun 19, 2007 9:23:15 AM


  5. His gayness is relevant because he helped defeat Nazi Germany, which singled out gays and other minority groups for extermination.

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 19, 2007 9:30:07 AM


  6. in a sidebar to the debate - i have found nothing to substantiate the apple logo link to alan turing. it would be a great story if it were true, but this connection with apple's logo sounds like an urban legend.

    Posted by: anthony | Jun 19, 2007 9:37:28 AM


  7. It is very relevant that Turing was gay. He created a tool that was used to defeat the Nazi war machine and saved his country (and the rest of Europe and North America) in the process. To ignore the circumstances of his death, the travesty of justice that led to his suicide and the ungratefulness of a nation who owed their very freedom to him is absurd.

    No, Turing wasn't a hero because he was gay. He was a hero because he stood up and fought for his country and for the freedom of his fellow man even though his fellow Britons refused to recognize his full humanity and sought to impose draconian reparative therapies on him.

    The UK and the rest of the free world owe Turing a great debt, and for his full life to be ignored is an injustice. He was forced to live in the closet during his life, and now even in a posthumous tribute his sexuality is hidden. Sheesh.

    Turing is a true hero and is someone whose life should be celebrated. His sexual orientation should not be kept secret; he should be held up as an example of what gays and lesbians can accomplish, despite the prejudices and ignorance of society.

    Posted by: Jonathon | Jun 19, 2007 9:48:43 AM


  8. I pretty much agree with Matt 100%. It's a difficult issue: on the one hand, one simply wants to be accepted for who one is ("move on, folks, nothing to see here...") but on the other, one wants to highlight the gay angle (particularly, as in this case, if praise and fame are part of the occasion, providing a chance to link "gay" to "good" in the public's mind).

    On another matter, I have long wondered if there was another house in England with a more disgusting name than Bletchley Park. I have yet to find it...

    Posted by: Becks07 | Jun 19, 2007 9:52:31 AM


  9. While I totally agree that his sexuality is important, I think the references made by gay.com's Stewart that not mentioning it is like talking about MLK Jr and not mentioning he is black is a bit off. MLK Jr. fought for civil rights for black people in America. I think its clear why we discuss the fact he was black. Turing happened to be gay and did something extraordinary that had NOTHING to do with the fact he was gay. I don't see the logic in Stewart's comparison. Otherwise I agree it is a shame to fail to mention that he was treated no better by his country who he saved than gays were by the Nazis who were defeated in a huge part because of Turing.

    Posted by: Carrie | Jun 19, 2007 9:53:24 AM


  10. Becks07-

    Bletchley is not an unusual name for an english village, and now Bletchley is part of Milton Keynes. I have relatives that live there and their leisure centre is quite nice. It is a lovely place. Hull on the other hand is not only horrendous but rhymes with its adjectival descriptive "dull Hull". There is also Stoke on Trent, which many have taken the mick on for years.

    Posted by: Gary | Jun 19, 2007 10:17:16 AM


  11. Wow, a man smart enough to help defeat the Nazis offs himself due to the pressure put on him by the very society he helped to save. How much more relevant could his story be?

    What more could this man have done with his life had he been able to live his life without fear and hate? To what extent was our society stunted because this gifted man's life was cut short? Who knows what else he may have contributed to our world?

    And to those who say the MLK, Jr. comparison is not apt, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor. Turing was a scientist and used his skills to push back a scourge on our society - a scourge that sent many cultural and ethnic groups, including gay people like Turing, to camps and killed them. For those of you who think MLK would never have been involved in civil rights had he not been a black man can also apply that same logic to Turing. Perhaps the man would have never used his intelligence to fight the Nazis if he hadn't been a gay man - a gay man so conflicted by his homosexuality that he ended up killing himself living among the "good guys". Nobody can completely know either Turing's or King's motivations but I'm sure they're not as black and white as many of you try to make them. People are complex creatures and everything about us motivates our actions. To omit any of that personality or information when honoring a person's contributions is short-sighted at best.

    Posted by: Rey | Jun 19, 2007 10:36:25 AM


  12. "Sound like a few Arabic linguists we know?"

    Arabic linguists are not forced to have shock therapy/hormone treatment, they weren't convicted of 'gross indecency', and, to top it off, they aren't being pushed to the fringes. This is not to excuse this idiotic policy of Congress but these linguists will go on to make six figure salary's because of their unique skills paid for by ... ironically ... us.

    "It's a bit like talking about Martin Luther King, but not mentioning that he's black."

    What an incredibly stupid statement. Turing is the creator of the modern computer - he was not an activist fighting for civil rights. Being gay has nothing to do with his great accomplishments.

    Does the word "perspective" mean anything to anyone here?

    Posted by: yoshi | Jun 19, 2007 10:43:53 AM


  13. Why does everyone have to talk about being gay all the time?!? Its a nice statue. Leave the man and his memory alone!

    (The internalized homophobia of some of these comments is nothing short of pathetic.)

    Posted by: JOHN IN MANHATTAN | Jun 19, 2007 11:28:41 AM


  14. I think Matt, Becks07, Yoshi, et al have a point; but the point isn't that Turing's gayness isn't relevant and wasn't worthy of mentioning. The point is that they used the wrong analogy.

    I think a more relevant and appropriate analogy would have been to compare Alan Turing to Washington Carver. Two men, from oppressed minorities, made great contributions to society. Their minority status had nothing to do with why or how they made their contributions. In spite of their contributions to the greater society, that very society still treated them as "other" and continued to oppress them. With both men, it is very important to acknowledge their minority status when discussing their accomplishments, not because it was the reason for them but simply because EVERY minority needs their own heroes AND because when a minority is STILL marginalized, disadvantaged and undervalued it is VERY important that EVERYONE realize the contributions that people from that minority has made to society and to the greater good of ALL.

    They should have said, "It would be like talking about the numerous inventions, discoveries and accomplishments of Washington Carver without mentioning that he was black."

    Thoughts?

    Posted by: Zeke | Jun 19, 2007 11:37:17 AM


  15. It makes you wonder what he could have gone on to do had he not been rejected by the society he helped to save.

    It is almost Biblically draconian how society prefers the dead homosexual over any benefit.

    Posted by: chandler in hollywood | Jun 19, 2007 11:38:58 AM


  16. What does the text on the statue's plaque read ???

    a statue commemorates the subject's life and accomplishment.
    details regarding birth, death, and items of interest (the cyanide apple and reason for eating it) are always included in the remembrance.

    Posted by: A.J. | Jun 19, 2007 11:45:52 AM


  17. Incidently G. W. Carver, according to biographies and personal testimony, should be considered a gay hero as well as an African-American hero.

    Posted by: Zeke | Jun 19, 2007 11:48:21 AM


  18. It's telling that the press release is concerned with Welsh "stone which would have been in Nazi control" rather than the Welsh **people**.

    Who cares about stone!

    Perhaps, this stone, cold attitude (stiff British upper lip?) is a clue as to why there is no mention of Turing's struggle with British law over his sexuality.

    Ironic that WWII is often framed as a fight against the inhumanity of the Nazi's when we seem to have taken on some of that very same characteristic.

    Posted by: Marc | Jun 19, 2007 12:01:46 PM


  19. Its important to recognize that he was gay and persecuted for it. It is entirely relevant to his story, especially its tragic end.

    Maybe if more people who walked into this exhibit and realized that this man who basically saved the world was a homosexual, they might reconsider pre-judging people for their sexuality.

    Posted by: Wes | Jun 19, 2007 12:03:10 PM


  20. how does one KNOW that being gay didn't play a part in his opposing the Nazis who were imprisoning and killing people because of their homosexuality?

    Posted by: yeahisaidit | Jun 19, 2007 12:04:43 PM


  21. I mostly agree with Matt and Jason, and the official response from Bletchly Park.

    While any discussion of Alan Turing is certainly an excellent *opportunity* to discuss gay civil rights, ultimately that's OUR responsibility.

    Bletchly Park's responsibility is to tell the story of code-breaking. To insist that they talk about Turing's sexuality at every opportunity is just abusing political correctness to hijack their message with ours. That's precisely the kind of thing that inspires resentment, not tolerance.

    I'd feel differently if Turing's sexuality was more intertwined with his work on Enigma and the Bombe, but the fact is, that was his major contribution to the war and his sexuality didn't seem to be a factor.

    I'd also feel differently if there was evidence of a real "whitewashing" of his sexuality from his story, but I just don't see that here. It's a damn statue, not his entire life story.

    Posted by: Rich Brome | Jun 19, 2007 12:07:31 PM


  22. Why would people resent the fact that his homosexuality is mentioned? That's their problem if they can't reconcile the fact that a man who saved the world happened to be gay.

    Posted by: Wes | Jun 19, 2007 12:11:05 PM


  23. "It's a bit like talking about Martin Luther King, but not mentioning that he's black."

    Turing's greatness wasn't pioneering work on gay rights, but rather in theoretical and applied computer science.

    Although Turing's death was ruled a suicide, there is still speculation that it might have been murder or accidental. If it was suicide, his motives are unknown. The hormone therapy had already been discontinued at the time of his death.

    The one sexual relationship we know of was with a 19-year-old thug who ultimately burglarized his house and indirectly led to Turing's exposure. Turing was 40 at the time.

    Derek Jacobi starred in a play about Turing's life called "Breaking The Code."

    Incidentally, Turing's cracking of the Nazi's codes were not his greatest achievement. The entire theory of Computer Science is based on an idea he developed (the so-called Turing Machine). Centuries from now, computer scientists will still be learning about Turing Machines and recognizing Turing as the founder of Computer Science.

    Posted by: Turing Fan | Jun 19, 2007 12:17:35 PM


  24. I'm not an expert but I did do research to write an extensive review of the most complete biography of Turing. The bio here may not emphasize a couple of points that demonstrate why it is a strange oversight to leave Turing's gay life--not just his gayness--out of any important statement about him. He was not just an important person who happened to be gay, so the complaint made that people are always trying to bring in sexual orientation when it isn't primarily relevant is very far off base here. The actual circumstances of Turing's career and death show its relevance.

    -First: Although it's true he is especially important as an innovator in artificial intelligence, his proximal and unique importance is in his code-breaking work. As someone here put it, he essentially saved the western world. Others might have come up with the computer work he did, but with many of the best minds in Britain at work on the project, no one but he got anywhere near breaking the Enigma code, and Winston Churchill among others held that World War II simply wouldn't have been won without it, and there wouldn't be any democratic, liberal western world to use computers.

    -Second: As some people have pointed out, he wasn't merely gay, or merely badly treated, he was knowingly singled out for severe persecution, and very likely based on his refusal to shut up about either the significance of his contribution to the war or his sexual orientation. He was not a stereotyped closeted queen, but used his knowledge of the inner workings of the intelligence community to try to secure some recognition and some freedom in his personal life. He was a serious inconvenience to the British and American intelligence agencies in the post-war period and, primarily because of his homosexuality (but also his personal eccentricity), was considered a serious risk. People who know the record of 1950s McCarthyism in the US are aware of the bizarre association between homosexuality and communism (of all things!) at the height of Cold-War paranoia; there was speculation that Turing was odd enough to suddenly turn to the Russians. (Kim Philby was gay, too, of course.) There is abundant evidence that the campaign against him was intentionally directed to drive him to suicide, and that other means of eliminating him were also contemplated. And certainly, as someone here said, it is entirely possible he was assassinated; certainly the investigation of his death was very suspicious.

    Therefore: While it's significant that Turing was a major force in defeating a world power that had a program of exterminating homosexuals; and that Turing's status as a member of an oppressed minority (like Martin Luther King's) is inseparable from his achievement, the most significant issue is that his story is told in a biased and slanted fashion if the reaction to his homosexuality, and its responsibility for his premature death, are left out. Indeed, the case is so obvious that it's more like celebrating John F. Kennedy's life without mentioning that he was assassinated.

    I'd like to propose therefore that a better analogy would be someone like Galileo--no one would consider for a moment suggesting that the persecution of Galileo by the Inquisition was irrelevant to the celebration of his scientific discoveries.
    And against the objection that the Inquisition's stance was about resistance to Galileo's ideas and not his "personal" life, that's not historically accurate; in fact, one of the primary themes in the background of the great scientific heresy trials is that the accused form a vast secret underground of conspirators determined to overthrow the Church, introduce sun worship (hence the heliocentrism), and do away with the prohibition of - guess what? - sodomy. (Some psychologists hold that all paranoia is homosexual paranoia.) So it is a terrible kind of whitewashing to celebrate Turing without addressing his persecution as well as its relation to his homosexuality.

    A very good analogy is Sir Roger Casement, who became an internationally revered figure when he exposed the cruelty of Belgian rule in the Congo and British exploitation in South America. He was tried and convicted of treason for seeking the support of Germany for Irish independence during World War I. He found some support among the British legal establishment because of his humanitarian record and because some accepted his argument that he was not actually a British subject. But opinion turned against him with the targeted circulation of his "Black Diaries," in which he recorded his sexual adventures with rough trade. It is now generally agreed that he never would have been executed had he not been homosexual. A certain kind of conservative historian still insists this isn't really relevant; but most contemporary historians would say that it would be a misrepresentation of the real issues in is case not to discuss his homosexuality and its role in his death.

    Posted by: Cool Bear | Jun 19, 2007 1:18:45 PM


  25. So no one has an opinion on the analogy of G. W. Carver?

    Turing Fan? Rich? Yoshi? Becks07? Matt?

    Posted by: Zeke | Jun 19, 2007 1:19:55 PM


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