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article imageFamily of scientist Alan Turing seeks pardon for 49,000 other men

By Megan Hamilton     Feb 24, 2015 in Technology
The family of world-renowned code-breaking scientist Alan Turing plans to demand that the government pardon 49,000 other men who, like Turing, were also persecuted for being gay.
Turing was instrumental in cracking German military codes and his work was crucial to the British war effort against the Nazi onslaught. Despite his brave efforts, he was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a young man, 19, and was chemically castrated. Turing committed suicide through cyanide poisoning two years later, The Guardian reports.
The famed computer scientist was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013, and now activists want the government to pardon all of the men convicted under the outdated and cruel law.
Turing's family — his great-nephew, Nevil Hunt, his great-niece Rachel Barnes, and her son Thomas — will hand in the petition which has garnered more than 530,000 signatures, to No. 10 Downing Street, The Independent reports.
"I consider it to be fair and just that everybody who was convicted under the Gross Indecency Law is given a pardon," Barnes said. "It is illogical that my great uncle has been the only one to be pardoned when so many were convicted of the same crime."
"I feel sure that Alan Turing would have also wanted justice for everybody."
Portrayed in the movie The Imitation Game, Turing's ability to break the Nazi enigma codes during the Second World War brought about the conclusion of the war at least two or three years earlier than it would have ended, and he has become known as the father of modern computing, notes human rights activist Peter Tatchell in an interview with Here and Now.
"So, for him to have been treated in that way, prosecuted for a consenting, victim-less, same-sex relationship and then forced or pressured to undergo chemical castration, which ultimately drove him to depression and suicide, that's a truly shameful thing," Tatchell said.
What is the Gross Indecency law?
The law sounds "ghastly and horrible, but all it just simply means is any sexual contact between men, which can involve sex, but also can involve mere touching or caressing or kissing," Tatchell said. "Under this law, an estimated 49,000 men were convicted in Britain, but there were also three other anti-gay laws, so the total number convicted was probably in the region of 50,000 and 100,000 men."
"Generations of gay and bisexual men were forced to live their lives in a state of terror," Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude Magazine told The Guardian. He also plans to be on hand when Turing's family presents the petition.
"Men convicted of gross indecency were often considered to have brought huge shame on their families and many took their own lives," he said. "We still live with the legacy of this period today and it's about time the country addressed this appalling part of our history."
Turing, a brilliant mathematician, is especially noted for writing the earliest blueprint for modern computing, The Independent notes. As the inventor of an electromagnetic machine, dubbed the 'bombe,' Turing and his team were able to decipher Germany's Enigma codes. The work he and his team did at Bletchley Park was instrumental in ending the war, but it's only after six decades that Turing's contribution is now being fully acknowledged.
Turing's contributions weren't brought to light until 20 years after his suicide because of the Official Secrets Act. Neither his parents or his brother ever knew of his secret war efforts during his lifetime.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch's Oscar-nominated portrayal of Turing has fortunately brought the man's life work to a broader audience, The Independent reports. The film stretches from the scientist's days at Bletchley Park to his work at Manchester University, where he was hailed as the father of modern computing, to his tragic suicide. He was a mere few weeks from his 42nd birthday when he committed suicide on June 7, 1954.
Despite his tragic and early death, Turing was so prolific in life, especially when it comes to the fields of mathematics, computer science, and mathematical biology,(and morphogenesis in particular) that the Science Museum dedicated an entire exhibition to him on the centenary of his birth in 2012.
Tatchell notes that the fight to pardon men persecuted because of the Gross Indecency Act must go on.
"They want the same justice as Alan Turing got," he told Here and Now. "Probably somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 of these men are still alive today. So for them, this is a real, live, personal issue. Let's not forget, these men were not only convicted, but because of the shame and stigma associated with such convictions, many of them were sacked from their jobs, evicted from their homes, their marriages broke up, many were attacked – violently attacked and assaulted by neighbors and people in the street – and a very substantial minority attempted or did actually commit suicide."
"So, really the cause of justice for these men must continue."
Turing, along with his colleagues at Bletchley Park, shortened the war and saved thousands of lives, The Guardian notes. Britain could return the favor by pardoning these men.
More about Alan turing, enigma codes, alan turing mathematician, alan turing father of modern computing, 49000 men
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