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Digital Culture

Alan Turing

In all the excitement about the Democratic wins of yesterday, there’s been little coverage about my least-favorite happening here in TN: the passage of the Marriage Amendment. Evidently, 80% of the people who voted in the state of Tennessee are…to put it not-so-politely…bigoted idiots.

So in honor of that 80%, I thought I’d play a game called: My Favorite Homosexual! This is a simple game, anyone can play (and I’d like to suggest those with blogs play along) where I talk a bit about my favorite gay or lesbian from history.

My Favorite Homosexual is Alan Turing.

Alan Turing, arguably, was the key figure that led to the Allied victory in WWII. He was instrumental in breaking the German Enigma machine, the code that the German army used to relay messages. This allowed Allied commanders to know their enemies movements, plans, and goals…it doesn’t take Sun Tzu to know how important that is in war. Turing also developed the Bombe, an electro-mechanical device for analyzing Enigma keys…one of the first computers. He is most famous in geek circles for the Turing Test, a rubric for deciding if an Artificial Intelligence is actually intelligent. He is also the name behind the Turing Machine a thought experiment famous for its impact on computer science. By any measure, Turing was a genius, and was one of Britain’s national treasures…one of the brightest minds in the world, using his brilliance to serve his country and (without much hyperbole) save the world.

In the early 1950’s, Turing’s relationship with a younger man came to light, and he was arrested and prosecuted in England for “gross indecency.” He was given a choice between jail and probation that would include hormone treatment…a form of chemical castration. In 1954, after a year of the treatments mandated by the courts, he was found dead, with a half-eaten apple laced with cyanide beside him, an apparent suicide.

He wasn’t yet 42 years old.

What did the world lose when he took his life? The sad truth is, of course, we’ll never know. And we won’t know because short-sighted, bigoted, stupid people had a law that punished someone for a private, consensual, non-harmful act. So I say to the people of Tennessee: Shame on you. Shame on you for continuing the denigration and persecution of members of your society for nothing more than the way they were born. Shame on you for treating members of your society truly as second-class citizens. And shame on you for for not learning the lessons of the Civil Rights movement, the Feminist movement, and the very words that frame the foundation of this nation; that all men are created equal. Future generations will look back at this time and wonder at our ignorance.

I already do.

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