Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

DADT has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 patriotic and highly qualified men and women since its enactment more than 16 years ago. As nerds we should all understand what homophobia in the military has done to the studies of Computer Science and Cryptography in the example of Alan Turing.

In January 1952 during a robbery investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with one of the thieves. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and so both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the same crime that Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than fifty years earlier.

Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted chemical castration via oestrogen hormone injections.

Turing’s conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for GCHQ. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents, due to the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, as with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work.

On June 8th 1954, Turing’s cleaner found him dead; he had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it is speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was delivered. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking crematorium on 12 June 1954.

Turing’s mother argued strenuously that the ingestion was accidental, caused by her son’s careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in an ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. Others suggest that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the 1937 film Snow White, his favourite fairy tale, pointing out that he took “an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Witch immerses her apple in the poisonous brew.”

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/dont_ask_dont_tell.html

* large sections of this post are taken from Mr. Turing’s page on Wikipedia because I didn’t want to get any of the horrible details wrong.

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