By: Jak Rogers
DOB: June 23rd, 1912 – June 7th, 1954; age 41.
The name Alan Turing is hopefully one already in your vocabulary, but if not please keep reading! Alan Turing was one of two boys born in England from the father of a member of the Indian Civil Service; he met his wife and married while in India only for them to return there early in Alan’s childhood. Alan remained in England staying with friends of the family. While here, Alan did not do so well in grade school but it improved once he started at King’s College, Cambridge. In grade school, it seems as if Alan was not phased by the instruction of his teachers but rather wanted to follow his own scientific inquiries.
After graduating from Cambridge in 1934, in 1935 he studied with Max Newman on an advanced study in mathematics. After this, also in 1935, King’s College offered him a fellowship due to one of his writings. In 1936, he attended Princeton University but his time in the United States fell short as he returned to England in 1938.
While some of his achievements during his college years were magnificent, during 1936, he had written a paper on computable numbers and it was the advancement that coined him as one of the earliest computer scientists. By simply googling Mr. Turing it is easy to tell how brilliant he was in terms of mathematics and early technology. One thing that is not so adamantly advertised is that Turing was gay.
For myself personally, I feel as if Turing is someone I was very excited to hear was part of the LGBTQ+ community. Being a World War II history buff his name was always on my radar for helping break the German Enigma but it was not until 2014 when the film The Imitation Game was released that his sexuality was broadcasted so widely. This film does a good job at showing how separated his sexuality was from his day to day life and how he often dismissed his sexuality to be successful during this time. There are some articles that say that Mr. Turing was open about his sexuality with friends he grew close to. Based on his convictions from the state of England, he never once tried to deny his involvement with other men and simply argued that it should not matter.
I cannot emphasize this enough because it is the argument that many of the LGBTQ+ community members argue today. He doubted that his achievements would be credited or held to be serious because of his sexuality which emphasized the discrimination of homosexuality at this time in Europe.
“I’m afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future,” Turing wrote.
“Turing believes machines think, Turing lies with men, therefore machines do not think.”
While sexuality is not THE defining characteristic of an individual it is one that I am specifically interested in which is why I started these historical posts. Not only do I get to educate myself about people that I am not familiar with, but I get to come to terms that the queer community has always been here!
Advancements of Turing’s Career
Aside from Turing’s educational career, he has had a very impressive resume in terms of jobs as well. Straight from Princeton in 1938, Turing accepted a part-time job at the Government Code and Cypher School located in Bletchley Park. The point of this job was to help the Allies of World War II decrypt the messages sent by the German governing body. After two years of collectively working with a bigger group, Turing and his fellows finally produced a machine that was able to break the German codes in the messages from early on in the day since the codes were changed after midnight Every. Single. Day. This advancement led to many of Turing’s future jobs such as breaking the naval enigma for the United States.
During the decline of Turing’s short life, in 1948, he was a lecturer at The University of Manchester. The following year he was promoted to deputy director in charge of the Computing Machine Laboratory where he invented the Manchester Mark 1, which is a computer programming system still used today. In 1945, Alan was awarded by King George IV the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. In 1950, a chess championship was set up in his name. Then finally a breaking point for Turing occurred, in 1952, where he was prosecuted for homosexual acts in which he had accidentally reported himself asking for help from the police because of a home invasion. Turing took the punishment of chemical castration over jail time to try and continue his work. From 1952-1954 Turing was still able to work despite this mentally weighing punishment.
Turing passed away from cyanide poisoning, it was said to be self administered due to the cyanide being placed on an apple which he bit into. Turing’s mother was convinced for the rest of her lifetime that he had not committed suicide but there is no evidence proving otherwise.
While his story ended devastatingly for a brilliant minded individual, it is important to recognize that LGBTQ+ individuals have fought so hard to live their truths. It is also important not to take for granted the advancements that the queer community has made in the United States and abroad.
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Cover image credited to: https://www.denverpost.com/2020/02/02/alan-turing-medal-diploma-colorado/