One of the most notable LGBTQ+ scientists from history is Alan Turing. He was a mathematician and computer scientist, famed for cracking intercepted ‘Enigma’ coded messages in World War II.
The Enigma Machine was used by German armed forces to send secure messages regarding their strategies and movements. Turing, along with his team at Bletchley Park, cracked these codes, and is estimated to have shortened the war by two years and saved 14 million lives.
“It is a rare experience to meet an authentic genius. Those of us privileged to inhabit the world of scholarship are familiar with the intellectual stimulation furnished by talented colleagues. We can admire the ideas they share with us and are usually able to understand their source; we may even often believe that we ourselves could have created such concepts and originated such thoughts. However, the experience of sharing the intellectual life of a genius is entirely different; one realizes that one is in the presence of an intelligence, a sensibility of such profundity and originality that one is filled with wonder and excitement. Alan Turing was such a genius, and those, like myself, who had the astonishing and unexpected opportunity, created by the strange exigencies of the Second World War, to be able to count Turing as colleague and friend will never forget that experience, nor can we ever lose its immense benefit to us.”
Extract from Peter J. Hilton’s Reminiscences of Bletchley Park, 1942-1945, A Century of Mathematics in America, Part I, American Mathematical Society, 1992
In 1952, Turing was arrested for his homosexuality, then a criminal offence in the United Kingdom, and charged with ‘gross indecency’. Rather than go to prison, he accepted a sentence of chemical castration, so that he could continue his work. He was found dead in 1954, of suspected suicide by cyanide poisoning. His body was found next to a half-eaten apple, and it was speculated this was how he ingested the poison, re-enacting a scene from his favourite fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
He was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013, and inspired the 2016 ‘Turing Law’, in which pardons were given to many living and dead men who had been convicted over consensual same-sex relationships. He now appears on the Bank of England £50 note, and is the subject of the Academy Award-winning film, The Imitation Game.