When Alan Turing died in 1954, I was only a few months old. He was only 41. This previously unknown and unsung gay hero has recently be honored through the recent release of the film “The Imitation Game.”
The film tells of the difficult work of breaking the Enigma Code that was used by the German government and military during the Second World War to send secret messages about future bombing targets and their strategic maneuvers. Turing was a young genius mathematician recruited by the British Intelligence as part of a secret mission to decipher the code. He worked with a team of equally brilliant elites, against all odds, to not only break the code but created the early science around artificial intelligence and the computer age. Not only did Turing and his colleagues work save the lives of perhaps up to 14 million people and cut the war by an estimated two years, but he paved the way for modern mass communication as we know it.
The reason why his legacy was simply forgotten until recently was because he was gay.
Europe as it was
The film, despite some historical inaccuracies, sets the mood for what it must have been like to function as a human being during the Second World War.
Scenes of mass evacuation of children from cities (this actually happened to my parents when they were 6 or 7 years old in Belfast) or families huddled together with strangers in London’s underground rail system as incendiary bombs fell from German bombers overhead. My aunt was an Air Raid Warden also in Belfast and the film gives a jolt to my family memory of her tales of digging out bodies from streets of rubble or how our parish church was hit with fire bombs that were meant for the local shipyards.
These were Europeans killing fellow Europeans and Christians at war with each other in a global scale.
The anti-gay law that was used to destroy Alan Turing’s life and career was still in operation in Britain and Ireland when I was growing up and it was not until 1967 that it was repealed in Britain and a few years later in Northern Ireland.
It is estimated anything from 50,000-70,000 people were convicted under this law from the mid-19th century until its repeal in 1967. The destruction of people’s lives was a quiet genocide. Reputations and careers were ruined. Families were divided and stigmatized with the victim. Many went to prison or in Turing’s case accepted chemical castration or experimentation in lobotomies rather than go to prison.
The Turing story is one of many returning ghosts that this film has helped to identify, emerging out of the smoky carnage of a violent and destructive age.
Britain owed so much to Turing and yet, his homosexuality was such an offence that even his distinguished wartime record could not save him from wrath of the church and state against “the love that dare not speak its name”.
The Queen posthumously pardoned Turing in 2013, prior to the release of the film. This dirty little secret remained in locked government archives for 50 years after the war and one wonders what other extraordinary lives were cut short by this inhumanity?
The actor, Stephen Fry and others are leading a public protest and petition to have the other 49,000+ people who suffered under this dreadful British law that criminalized us, also pardoned. An apology might also be in order!
Standing on the shoulders of others
As I was sitting in the theater beside my partner of 11 years and returned to a loving and welcoming community where I serve as a priest, I gave thanks for our forebears who sacrificed so much that we could simply BE, at least in this part of the world. It also hit me that most of the work we are doing for LGBT understanding, equal access to healthcare, education and business opportunities globally in the 80 countries where people are still imprisoned and stigmatized, are still living in the first half of the 20th century, where the same colonial British anti-gay laws are morphing into something more evil.
This time last year I visited six young people in a Cameroonian prison and their lives have been destroyed in the same way, society destroyed Turing’s. It also struck me that every country that perpetuates this inhumanity is also sadly destroying its own future potential.
Dr. Lee Badgett’s early research on the cost of homophobia in India is estimated at $26b a year in lost productivity, or lost potential. She has her critics, but I wonder how many modern day geniuses, inventors, business, political and religious leaders who are gifted enough to make the world an infinitely better place than it is today, but simply cannot, remain in the shadows of oppression and our human ignorance?
Uncovering our truth
I hope this film will help people to think more deeply about the real cost of homophobia and sexism. Imagine a world without Alan Turings. So many more lie under the rubble. We need to dig them out and tell their wonderful deeds.
The film ends with an acknowledgement that helps us to honor our forebears who have quietly helped us all get to where we are, and hopefully inspires others to find their own inner convictions and hope to eventually crack all the human codes of hostility.
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."
St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation will support four international activists at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Please support this campaign HERE.
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RGOD2 looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view and is written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Vicar of St. Peter’s, Lithgow in Millbrook, New York. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of San Diego-based St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.