Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Alan Turing

British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) masterminded cracking the German Enigma code during WW II, thus helping to shorten the war. He is also considered the father of computer science and the modern digital computer, with his invention of the Turing Machine (1936). His work continues to influence the field of artificial intelligence and the application of computer techniques in understanding biological forms and systems. He was a mathematical genius, and he was also homosexual.

While attending a noted independent school in Dorset, sixteen-year-old Turing fell in love with an older male schoolmate, Christopher Morcom, who died unexpectedly of bovine tuberculosis at the age of nineteen. Socially inept, Turing exhibited symptoms of autism, and Morcom had brought him out of his shell. Grief stricken following Morcom's death, Turing spent the next few years studying the question of how the human mind might survive death – Morcom's mind in particular. This research led to the study of quantum-mechanical theory and ultimately to the concept of thinking machines. He went on to study at Cambridge but moved to the U.S., where he earned a doctorate at Princeton (1938). He later became a specialist in the field of cryptanalysis.

For his work for the British government at the top-secret Bletchley Park facility (museum display with Turing's photo sown at right) during WW II, Turing was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946. Shortly thereafter he became a professor at Cambridge University, where he fell in love with Neville Johnson, a student. Turing was surprisingly open about his sexual orientation, given the mores of the time. In 1952 a young man from Manchester attempted to blackmail Turing for his homosexuality, leading Turing to go to the police to report the attempt at extortion. Instead of deciding to prosecute the extortionist, they arrested Turing on twelve counts of gross indecency. Turing would not deny the charges, taking the stance that he had done nothing wrong. The court disagreed, and Turing's security clearances were withdrawn, putting an end to his brilliant work. To avoid a prison term, Turing agreed to be subjected to experimental hormone treatments designed to curb his homosexual desires. Massive doses of estrogen caused him to grow breasts and become chemically depressed. His life thus ruined, he committed suicide in 1954, by ingesting a cyanide injected apple two weeks before his 42nd birthday. In 2009 the British government issued a formal apology for the way Turing was treated after WW II.

The year 2012 will be a centennial celebration of Turing’s life and scientific impact, with a number of major events taking place throughout the year. Most of these will be linked to places with special significance in Turing’s life, such as Cambridge, Manchester and Bletchley Park. 

Trivia: A blue plaque outside the 4-star luxury Colonnade Hotel in London indicates where Turing was born one hundred years ago, on June 23, 1912, when the hotel served as a hospital.

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