Everything you need to know about Alan Turing: A queer Cambridge icon
An ode to one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, a member of both the LGBTQ+ and Cambridge community
Pride Month marks a time more important than ever to celebrate LGBTQ+ history.
Whilst many will know Turing for his indispensable work at Bletchley Park during the war, little will know that he was an alumnus of King’s College Cambridge too.
Despite his invaluable contributions, Turing ultimately suffered persecution for being gay and died aged 41 from suicide, 69 years ago to this very day (7th June).
During WW2, Turing’s team cracked the code of the German Enigma machine at Britain’s top-secret intelligence centre, which provided pivotal intelligence to the Allies and ultimately led to crucial victories.
His legacy continues even today as he is considered to be the father of artificial intelligence. I’m sure he would have a lot to say today about ChatGPT, that’s for sure.
Before and during his time at Bletchley Park, Turing studied as an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge from February 1931 to November 1934. He graduated with a first-class honours in maths.
Later becoming a Fellow at the college in 1953, he published groundbreaking work which laid the foundation for modern computing.
Turing’s achievements continue to be celebrated both globally and locally. He appears on the current Bank of England £50 note and his name is associated with an annual award for computer science innovations.
Approved in August 2022, a new sculpture of Turing, designed by Sir Antony Gormley, is also planned to be installed in the grounds of King’s College with the college stating that a commemoration was “long overdue.” The sculpture, consisting of 19 steel blocks and standing over 3.6 meters tall, will commemorate Turing’s life.
A spokesperson for King’s College emphasised the significance of Turing’s life and contributions. They explained that the sculptor had deliberately chosen for the location to be at “the heart of the College community”, where they claimed Mr Turing “felt most at home.”
However, there have been disputes surrounding the sculpture’s location and visibility, with Historic England expressing concerns about its impact on the neighbouring historic buildings and that it could cause “some harm” to the pertinence of the historic College.
Councillor Dave Baigent stated that it ought to be constructed on King’s Parade where the public would have a more imminent access to it.
He told Cambridgeshire Live: “I walk down Kings Parade with my granddaughter, I want her to say to me “who is that, what is that”, in the same way she might say about the statue out the front of [the Guildhall].”
“I will say that is the man that cracked the German’s code, that is the man who helped to shorten the Second World War. That is the man who was challenged by our society, neutered, punished, and sunk into obscurity because of the treatment of homosexuals at that time.
“I want to be able to see this statue, not have it hidden away.”
He asserted that if the sculpture were placed in the courtyard as proposed, it would be “dwarfed” by the surrounding buildings, as Turing was similarly “dwarfed by our society.”
At the time, Alan Turing was subjected to hormone treatment, or chemical castration, for being gay, instead of being imprisoned.
Although his death in 1954 was officially ruled as suicide, there still remains debate as to whether it could have been due to accidental poisoning.
In past years, Turing’s unfortunate mistreatment has been recognised and rectified when Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister at the time, issued an official apology on behalf of the UK government for “the appalling way [Turing] was treated”, following a public campaign in 2009.
Similarly, in 2013, Queen Elizabeth conferred a posthumous pardon upon him.
The term “Alan Turing Law” is now commonly used to refer to a UK law introduced in 2017 that grants retroactive pardons for men who had been convicted under past legislation that criminalised homosexual acts.
Alan Turing’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the past injustices endured by the LGBTQ+ community and the remarkable intellects that have emerged from this community, leaving a lasting legacy that resonates even today.
Featured Image Credits: SWNS