Humanists have warmly welcomed the Queen of England’s praise for the gay atheist Alan Turing, whose work breaking German codes played a crucial role in World War II. The creator of the modern computer, Turing received little recognition for his work during his life, which ended when he committed suicide after he was convicted of a homosexual act and forced to undergo chemical castration.
On July 15, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a monument to commemorate the contribution made by code breakers, based at Bletchley Park in the British midlands, to the victory over Nazi Germany. In her speech the Queen said it was “impossible to overstate” the sense of gratitude to people who worked at Bletchley Park. “[It] became the centre of a world-wide web of intelligence communications, spanning the Commonwealth and further afield. This was the place of geniuses such as Alan Turing.”
George Broadhead, secretary of IHEU member organization the Pink Triangle Trust, welcomed the Queen’s comments and the new monument, saying: “It is great that these people who played such a vital part in ensuring allied victory in the last world war should be honoured in this way. For we gay Humanists, most of whom identify as atheist, it is especially welcome that the gay mathematical genius Alan Turing, who was himself a committed atheist, was given special recognition. Turing was treated abominably by the authorities when he was prosecuted for having a gay sexual relationship in 1952.”
Following his conviction for “indecency”, Turing was obliged to undergo chemical castration to “cure” his homosexuality. In 1954, at the age of 41, he killed himself by eating an apple laced with cyanide.
In recent years, Turing’s reputation has been rehabilitated. His pivotal work in breaking German codes has been made public. And Turing has been widely celebrated as the founder of computer science and artificial intelligence.
Following a campaign led by Humanists Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and Peter Tatchell, then prime minister Gordon Brown made an official apology on behalf of the government.
Prime Minister Brown said, “Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work, I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
Turing was also praised by President Barack Obama this year. In his speech to both Houses of Parliament in May, Obama said: “From Newton and Darwin, to Edison and Einstein, from Alan Turing to Steve Jobs, we have led the world in our commitment to science and cutting-edge research.”
Statue of Alan Turing in Sackville Park, Manchester