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Turing’s pardon should be extended to others

ByTilda Gregg-Smith

Mar 3, 2015

Alan Turing, the Enigma codebreaker who committed suicide after undergoing forced chemical castration under the Gross Indecency Act, was posthumously given a royal pardon in December 2013. A petition has now been brought to Downing Street to extend the pardon to the other 4,900 men who were prosecuted under this act.
The petition was presented by Turing’s family, and was signed by almost 500,000 people, including Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrayed Turing in the recent film about Turing’s life and work, The Imitation Game. Whilst Turing’s pardon was greeted with almost unanimous support, his great-niece, Rachel Barnes, pointed out the illogicality of pardoning only Turing for the ‘crimes’ outlined in the Gross Indecency Act. Although he was an incredible man who contributed an extraordinary amount to the country – experts argue that he shortened the Second World War by as much as two years – the unjust prosecution of which he has been officially cleared was applied to thousands of other men who are all equally deserving of pardon.
Despite the overwhelming support that has been shown towards this petition, there are nonetheless dissenters. As royal pardons are usually issued only to people who have been proven innocent, there are those who argue that these men should not necessarily receive a pardon, as they were correctly prosecuted for something which was a crime at the time. However, it is clear that the passing of this petition would represent another significant step forward for LGBT+ rights.
Indeed, the advancement of LGBT+ rights since the days of Turing has been significant and dramatic, as homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, and equal marriage came into effect in Scotland earlier this year. With this progress in mind, it would be easy to dismiss the petition as an empty and purely symbolic gesture, but the fact remains that there is still far to go in the fight against discrimination, and thus the pardoning of these men would set a clear precedent for the future. Some of the men who were convicted under the Gross Indecency Act are still alive, and although since the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 they have the option of applying for a disregard, which would clear their criminal record, they are nevertheless forced to live under the shadow of their criminal conviction. And for those who are already deceased, there is no option for them but to have lived and died with a criminal conviction. Families were torn apart and lives destroyed by the government’s actions during this time, and the repercussions resonate to this day.
Although a government spokesperson said that whilst the government is seeking to “right these wrongs”, there are “real practical and legal complexities” involved with issuing a pardon, which sounds rather like political platitudes in an attempt to appease those who have signed the petition. And regardless of these alleged “complexities”, a broad-sweeping pardon would act as an apology for the wrongful actions of previous governments, and would demonstrate a genuine support for LGBT+ rights.
This is an issue which affects not only our past, but our present and our future. In order to move forward, it is necessary to recognise past mistakes, and the Gross Indecency is a dark stain on our country’s history and present day. Indeed, homophobia is still very much a feature of our contemporary society, and the government needs to lead the way in the progress of LGBT+ rights, something which is impossible to do whilst these men are still regarded as criminals because of their sexual orientation.

By Tilda Gregg-Smith

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4th year French & English Lit. 

Likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

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