This evening the Prime Minister has released a statement of posthumous apology to Alan Turing.
Turing was the father of modern computer science. In 1999 Time Magazine named Turing as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century for his role in the creation of the modern computer, stating: “The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.” He came up with the Turing Test for artificial intelligence, worked on the Manchester Mark 1, then emerging as one of the world’s earliest true computers, and worked as a codebreaker for British intelligence during World War 2.
Turing was a scientific icon, a Manchester legend and a war hero. He was also gay. In 1952, when he was outed, being gay was illegal. Turing was arrested, chemically castrated and banned from GCHQ. He never recovered, physically or psychologically, and two years later he killed himself with cyanide.
In 2006 Tony Blair summed up the achievements of this Labour government as ‘Banning things that should never have been allowed…allowing things that should never have been banned.’ Being gay should never have been banned. Alan Turing was never a criminal; those who persecuted him to his death were. It breaks my heart that this brilliant man was arrested in Manchester for being no different to the thousands of people who celebrated Pride in this same city last month.
Gordon Brown’s apology is symbolic; but behind the symbol is the solid foundation of this Labour government’s commitment to gay rights.
Civil partnerships, fertility treatment for lesbians available on the NHS, gay adoption rights and the scrapping of the Tories’ homophobic section 28 – this government has had to overturn not only centuries of inequality, but also a deliberately discriminatory policy brought in by the Conservatives as late as 1988.
The Conservatives have been doing their best to court the gay vote in recent months, and David Cameron made a high-profile apology for Section 28 (including having voted for it himself). But the key difference between Cameron’s apology and the Prime Minister’s is that Gordon Brown is apologising for being the Prime Minister of a country that once had a homophobic government, because he wants to reassure the gay community that those days are behind us; whereas David Cameron had to apologise for having voted, personally, for a homophobic law, because he wants the gay community to believe that he and his party have changed.
I don’t believe him. The Tories are still obsessed with marriage incentives as a cure for all evil (their ‘Plan for Social Reform‘ doesn’t even mention civil partnerships); their MEPs deny that homophobia exists; and don’t even get me started on Nadine Dorries.
I was part of LGBT Labour’s entry in this year’s Manchester Pride parade and was taken aback at the huge number of spectators along the route who burst out clapping and cheering at the sight of our Labour banner: a demonstration that gay voters (perhaps particularly in Manchester) know that Labour is still the only true party of equality. I was so proud to be Labour that day, and I am again tonight.
Alan Turing: 23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954