The face of the new fifty-pound note will be Alan Turing, who was a genius mathematician, the father of Artificial Intelligence and modern computing, and is credited with having shortened WWII by a year, saving millions of lives.
However, his own life was prematurely ended, when he committed suicide in 1954 after being subjected to state-sponsored homophobia and so-called ‘therapies’ that amounted to torture.
In 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency, as being gay was illegal at the time. His career as a codebreaker for the Government was immediately ended. This was an ignominious turn-around from his contribution to the war effort in which led the team at Bletchley Park who were responsible for cracking the German Enigma code. Tragically, his disgrace was public, while his heroism remained top secret for many years to come.
The ‘therapy’ that he was subjected to was a form of what is now known as ‘conversion therapy’. In Turing’s case this involved a regime of chemicals and hormones, which affected him deeply both physically and mentally. In the 1950s, homosexuality was thought to be unnatural and until 1992, the World Health Organisation classed it as a mental disorder. This treatment was thought to be a ‘cure’. However, it only caused harm.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or ‘cure’ therapy is defined by Stonewall as “any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.”
Disturbingly, this practice continues even today in spite of a lack of clinical evidence of any effectiveness whatsoever and the fact that a ‘memorandum of understanding’ signed by the NHS among other leading counselling and psychotherapy bodies described it as having “the potential to cause harm”. Nowadays it often involves talking therapies, prayer and, in more extreme cases, physical violence and even exorcism.
In 2018, Theresa May’s Government promised that an ‘LGBT action plan’ would bring forward proposals to make the criminalisation of conversion therapy a priority. March this year marked one thousand days since this promise was made and a thousand days of LGBTQ+ people across the country waiting for this to be acted on.
Boris Johnson expressed his support for the ban in 2020, describing the practice as “absolutely abhorrent”. Equalities Minister Liz Truss said that the government will bring forward plans to ban conversion therapy “shortly”.
We are still waiting for a timeline of when and how this will happen.
Sixty-three years after his death the UK acknowledged its disgraceful treatment of Professor Turing and many other convicted gay men by passing the ‘Alan Turing Law’ which granted a mass royal pardon.
The new fifty-pound note signals that the country wants to properly commemorate this great British hero. Perhaps a potentially more meaningful way to honour his memory would be for the Government to finally make good on their promise and protect LGBTQ+ people from cruel mistreatment.
The original version of this article was originally published on This is Local London.
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