Alan Turing | Great Britain | News

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. 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'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. There is a direct connection between Turing's work, his sexuality, and his suicide. As a result of the arrest he lost his security clearance which, of course, meant he could no longer apply his knowledge and passion. [Imagine Reichen never being allowed to take his clothes off in public again.] As for posthumous discrimination, the Brits are not alone. Here in the colonies, the administrators of the high school named for gay Black civil rights icon Bayard Rustin [Google him, PLEASE] in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania, not only did not mention how often homophobia was used to discredit him [e.g., in 1963, when he was organizing the great March on Washington, Sen. Strom Thurmond called him a pervert on the floor of the US Senate and entered into the Congressional Record the ten-years old police booking slip, clearly supplied by the FBI, for an arrest of Rustin on a sex-related charge] or those around him [another Black activist tried to force Martin Luther King, Jr., to cancel a protest by threatening to publicly (and falsely) accuse King of having an affair with Rustin], nor mention his speaking for gay rights, but also after soliciting names from his surviving partner Walter Naegle to invite to the school's dedication ceremony, neither invited Naegle himself nor acknowledge him still in materials about Rustin.

    As unforgivable as that was, Naegle suffered more when, even though he was listed as next of kin, the hospital would not let him see Rustin when he was seriously ill. They finally relented, but Rustin died of a heart attack before he was able to say good-bye to the man with whom he had spent the last decade of his remarkable life that helped change America, indeed, the world, forever.

    Posted by: Leland | Jun 19, 2007 1:26:29 PM

  2. Zeke, thank you. I couldn't have expressed my sentiments any better myself. As my British cousins would say, "I think you're spot on."

    Although, I think "treated" could be changed to "treats" and "continued" to "continues, as in many cases little has changed in this area.

    Posted by: Tom | Jun 19, 2007 1:29:30 PM

  3. Zeke, thank you. I couldn't have expressed my sentiments any better myself. As my British cousins would say, "I think you're spot on."

    Although, I think "treated" could be changed to "treats" and "continued" to "continues, as in many cases little has changed in this area.

    Posted by: Tom | Jun 19, 2007 1:38:14 PM

  4. I'm honestly starting to wonder if some of you have ever been to a museum dedicated to a historical figure. I've been to many, from the Ford museums in Dearborn MI and Ft. Myers FL, to the Ringling museum in Sarasota, to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. In EVERY SINGLE ONE, things are mentioned that had absolutely nothing to do with the featured celebrants' "accomplishments" but had A LOT to do with acknowledging, recording and celebrating their lives and who they were.

    If this was a museum dedicated to computers then I could see a legitimate reason fo ignoring unconnected aspects of Turing's life as it pertained to the museum. That is not the case here. This is NOT a computer museum that just happens to include Turing; it is a museum dedicated to the man and his amazing and tragic life. Yes his sexual orientation was only one aspect of his life, but so was his superior intelligence and his history altering invention.

    Interestingly enough, when it comes to the relevance of a person’s homosexual orientation as it pertains to do with his involvement with WWII, you'll NEVER read an account of Ernst Rohm without his homosexuality being mentioned.

    I guess the homosexual orientation of villains is always appropriate, relevant and important to report on but the homosexual orientation of heroes is inappropriate, irrelevant and unimportant.

    I expect that kind of thinking from non-gay people, especially from anti-gay people, but frankly I find it odd coming from gay people.

    Posted by: Zeke | Jun 19, 2007 2:13:21 PM

  5. I agree completely with Zeke regarding the analogy comparing Turing's homosexuality to MLK being black (although I think it should have been mentioned). An analogy comparing this situation to an omission of Harvey Milk's sexuality wouldn't work for the same reasons.

    Posted by: Dennis | Jun 19, 2007 3:55:51 PM

  6. Please don't equate this great inventor who helped save the world from a REAL madman and a REAL threat, Hitler, to the so-called linguists involved in Bush/Cheney's phony-ass War on Terror. No congrats or bouquets please for anyone involved in that crock. I have no sympathy or empathy for those who stick out their lower lips and get all pouty when they can't shove democracy down the world's throat... oh, and yeah, control the oil. If gays and lesbians want to oppress others, why should anyone care if they feel oppressed by their own government?

    Posted by: ProfessorVP | Jun 19, 2007 6:00:01 PM

  7. Hey, Zeke... I think you are absolutely correct. However, an even better comparison could be made than G. W. Carver.

    Dr. Charles R. Drew. Dr. Drew was a black physician and medical researcher in the 1940's and 50's. He is credited with developing the method of creating blood plasma that allows blood to be more safely and effectively stored. He was an incredible doctor and researcher. He has saved countless lives. HOWEVER... he, himself, died at the age of 45. He was in a car accident and the hospital refused to treat him. Because he was black.

    Alan Turing fought for and helped save freedom. Yet the very society that he saved allowed him- indeed, DROVE him- to his death.

    "His accomplishments aren't connected to his sexuality"?? PLEASE! Some people need to grow a brain.

    Posted by: Dean | Jun 20, 2007 11:00:56 PM

  8. One key point that I don't think has been mentioned here: Turing died at 41. He had already made truly astounding contributions to the world, but he likely had more to give. He died in the prime of life, and he died because he was gay. The persecution that lead to Turing's death deprived the world of any further accomplishments that his genius could have given us. So to discuss him or his significance without mentioning his homosexuality and death is to miss the point in a big way, and is certainly incongruous compared to the treatment of other influential figures who died before their time.

    Posted by: bjargar | Jun 25, 2007 3:15:52 PM

  9. As an aside, I'm viewing this web page precisely because the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. included a note on a plaque that describes Alan Turing's contributions to cryptography and computer science explaining that he committed suicide at an early age as a result of persecution for his homosexuality. Although I have an M.S. in Computer Engineering, I had never realized Turing was gay. I'm extremely grateful to the Spy Museum for their honesty, despite the fact that it may have been easier to bury their heads in the sand as so many others have conveniently done.

    Posted by: Dana | Oct 31, 2007 12:23:57 PM

  10. wow cool

    Posted by: Links of London | Mar 13, 2010 1:35:40 AM

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