2014 saw the release of The Imitation Game, a film led by Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch as he played the role of Alan Turing.
An incredibly smart and brilliant computer scientist and mathematician, Turing’s work helped the Allied Forces to victory in World War 2, by cracking Germany’s enigma code.
Winston Churchill even called Turing “the single biggest contribution” to their victory over Germany. But there was just one problem: Alan Turing was gay.
At the time, being gay was a criminal offense and so Turing was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1952. Forced to undergo chemical castration, the stress was so much that he took his own life two years later.
It wasn’t until 1967 that the ban against homosexuality was finally overturned and in 2013 Turing was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth the Second. There are still 50,000 men who were also convicted who never received such an honour though which is why Cumberbatch and out gay entertainer Stephen Fry have signed a letter to have those men pardoned too.
But what of the gay people who are still suffering from anti-gay laws thanks to viewpoints and Penal Codes that the British Colony left behind?
Within countries on the African continent, India and Jamaica (all of which were formerly under British rule), anti-LGBT sentiment runs high with murders, abuse and suicide often occurring because of it.
Unfortunately, while the petition signed by Cumberbatch and Fry notes that “The UK’s homophobic laws made the lives of generations of gay and bisexual men intolerable” the fact of the matter is is that these men are allowed to live happy lives within the UK while millions of men (and indeed women) in former British Colony countries do not.
The UK government shouldn’t just be seeking to pardon those 50,000 persecuted UK men (including 19,000 who are still alive today) but it should also be seeking to improve the lives and human rights of the LGBT people living in its previously ruled territories.
Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African HRC explains:
“Arrests and persecution abound in several African countries, where these Penal Codes remain the law of the land.
The United Kingdom must set this imperative example by pardoning every single gay person convicted under its persecutory laws, not only to right the awful wrong, but also to set the stage for those still subject to criminalization directly impacted by English Colonialism.”
An online petition has also been set up to support this and has already garnered over 100,000 signatures. You can find the petition here.