The Legacy of Alan Turing
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Welcome to the LGBT Technology Partnership! We are incredibly proud to be the first site dedicated to the betterment and social welfare of LGBT communities primarily by exploring the unique technology and communications issues of specific concern to LGBT communities. Our mission is to provide information, education, strategic outreach and training for LGBT organizations and LGBT Member groups as well as engage with telecommunications, technology and cable companies to ensure such issues are considered and addressed in policy and strategic discussions. The Partnership aims to provide a centralized voice at a national level for its LGBT Member groups and ensure that policy implementation at the local, state and federal levels addresses the unique technological needs of LGBT communities.
We inaugurate our blog with a nod to Alan Turing’s legacy and what his story tells us about the intersection between technology and LGBT communities. Alan Turing, widely considered to be the father of modern computer science, was one of technology’s greatest thinkers as well as someone who was persecuted and ultimately destroyed because of his sexual orientation. Born in London in 1912, he established himself as a visionary early on by publishing a paper that introduced an idea called the Universal Turing Machine which for the first time laid out the principle that a machine (hardware) could be programmed (software) to perform tasks. This concept describes the basis for all modern computers and was years ahead of its time. During World War II, he was lead on a British government team that broke Germany’s notorious Enigma code, which Germany used to encrypt its top-secret military communications.
Breaking this code was considered one of the pivotal events that determined the outcome of the war. After the war, Turing helped to develop the first modern computers and became a leader in the field of artificial intelligence. Sadly, his life started coming apart in 1952 after a burglary investigation resulted in him being outed as having a relationship with a 19 year-old man. He was arrested and pled guilty in an effort to minimize the scandal and the potential harm to his career. The judge overseeing the case offered him a choice of whether to spend a year behind bars or endure a hormone treatment to cure him (essentially a chemical castration that caused him to, among other things, grow breasts). Turing chose the hormone treatment and committed suicide via cyanide poisoning a year later, just two weeks before his 42nd birthday.
On one hand, Alan Turing’s technological accomplishments uniquely illustrate the critical importance of the LGBT community in the advance of technology. Just as importantly though, his personal story and the struggles he faced after being outed highlight the unique issues and technological concerns that LGBT communities face. LGBT communities have very specific privacy and confidentiality needs that may not apply to other communities. For many youth it is still incredibly risky to come out and technology (in the form of internet access, smart phones or other similar products) may represent their only link to other like-minded individuals. Thus, broadly available inexpensive access to such technology, especially in rural and other remote areas, is not just a matter of convenience but can be crucial to a person’s emotional and physical well-being.
Similarly, privacy and confidentially concerns in the exploitation of technology is an issue with a unique impact on LGBT communities. Hacking of sites that may include sensitive personal information, including possibly revealing a user’s sexual orientation, may result in disastrous consequences for individuals who have not revealed their sexual orientation publicly for whatever reason. This site will serve to ensure that such issues are considered and addressed by telecommunications, technology and social media companies as well as policy makers at all levels of government in a timely manner.
However, it’s not all grim! This site will also celebrate the wonder of technology and provide information on new and cutting edge technologies and applications that may benefit LGBT communities. Turing was a visionary who was ahead of his time and his enthusiasm for technological advancement knew no bounds. Similarly, research shows that gay people in general tend to be early adopters of new technology at higher rates than their straight counterparts. We consume technology earlier and faster than other groups and this site will be dedicated to highlighting policies and products that address this hunger within the gay community.
The world we live in today is markedly different than the one inhabited by Alan Turing in the 1950s yet many of the issues he faced as a gay individual are just as applicable today. This site will celebrate our progress while addressing the issues that are still unique to our community. It has taken decades but Alan Turing is finally getting the respect he deserves. In 2009, after 30,000 British citizens signed an on-line petition and amid widespread media attention including support from such public figures as Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized for “the appalling way he [Turing] was treated” by the British Government. In July of 2012, a bill was introduced in the House of Lords to give a statutory pardon to Turing. Late last year, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, physicist Stephen Hawking and 10 other signatories including the Astronomer Royal called on British Prime Minister to grant the pardon request. That the rehabilitation of Alan Turing’s image began as an online petition on the systems he himself helped create seems a fitting coda for this extraordinary man.
Want to keep track of important days in the LGBTQ+ community? Check out our LGBTQ+ Days of Significance Calendar!