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The British Government Is Finally Ready to Pardon Alan Turing

In 1952, he was convicted of "gross indecency"—a crime used at the time to punish homosexuals—and chemically castrated.

Alan Turing was a codebreaker, inventor, mathematician and scientist. He designed the first stored-program computer, cracked the German’s Enigma code, built the famous Turing Machine and essentially founded the entire fields of computer science and artificial intelligence. But despite his incredible achievements and contributions, Turing’s life was not a happy one. In 1952, he was convicted of “gross indecency”—a crime used at the time to punish homosexuals—and chemically castrated. He committed suicide two years later. Now, the British government is set to issue Turing a pardon.

The Guardian reports that, as long as no amendments are made to the bill, the pardon would go through the House of Commons at the end of October. The Guardian also notes that the pardon isn’t a given:

The announcement marks a change of heart by the government, which declined last year to grant pardons to the 49,000 gay men, now dead, who were convicted under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act. They include Oscar Wilde.

While many applaud the decision, some point out that a single pardon based on his contributions to society might send the wrong message—that being gay is only pardonable if you’re also a genius and help Britain win wars. The Guardian ran an accompanying opinion piece arguing that the pardon doesn’t matter, but that teaching Turing’s story does:

A more proper apologia might be to ensure that Turing’s achievements, and his treatment by the nation that benefited, are included in every pupil’s school curriculum. The 55% of gay pupils in our secondary schools who were homophobically bullied in the last 12 months might derive lasting reassurance from that.

The UK blog So So Gay wonders whether pardoning is a way for the British Government to rewrite history:

Just as you can’t libel the dead, so pardoning them can’t erase a wrong that was done by an unjust law. The facts of what they did won’t change, nor will the harsh treatment they received during their lifetimes.

Pardoning him won’t change any of that. It won’t make him more of a hero. It won’t make him less gay, or less wronged. Remembering Turing the hero we can also remember Turing the victim, along with thousands of others, and be thankful that, in part due to men like him, we live in far, far better times.

Some have argued for a statue of Turing to be erected, to honor not only his work but what his life and death represent to those still facing discrimination and threats due to their sexual orientation.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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