By Anna Noble
Dr Alan Turing’s efforts in cracking the Enigma code are predicted to have shortened World War II by two years and saved 14 million lives. He is also considered instrumental in laying the groundwork for the modern computer. Despite this, he was prosecuted for his sexuality, his identity and subjected to barbaric conversion therapy and later committed suicide.
His story is now well-known and remembered with horror, reminiscent of a shameful chapter in British history. In 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on behalf of the government issued a public apology to Turing and other gay men convicted under the gross indecency laws that criminalised homosexuality. In 2013, Turing was granted a royal pardon. In 2017, the UK passed the “Alan Turing law” issuing thousands of posthumous pardons and allowing the 15,000 men convicted under these laws to apply to be pardoned. In 2019, Turing was announced as the new face of the £50 note.
Whilst these actions are significantly symbolic in honouring one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, the LGBTQ+ communities are still being betrayed by the government and their failed promises. Arguably the most meaningful way the government could honour Alan Turing and the estimated 65,000 men convicted under the gross indecency laws would be to right a potentially less well-known issue — the fact that conversion therapy in the UK has not yet been banned.
Theresa May pledged in 2018 that the government would ban conversion therapy. Boris Johnson described it as “absolutely abhorrent” and having “no place in a civilised society [and] no place in this country”. MPs from across the political spectrum have condemned the practice and called for it to be banned. 370 religious’ leaders, from 35 countries, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called for a ban last December. Liz Truss the Equalities Minister has reiterated that a ban would be issued “shortly” but offered no legislative outline or timeline of when this might happen. In 2021, simply promising it will be dealt with shortly is not good enough.
Conversion therapies are entirely unnecessary and frankly should only be considered a form of abuse. Being LGBTQ+ is not a mental illness nor should it be treated as such. They also, and this cannot be stressed enough, do not work. It has been conclusively, consistently and repeatedly been found to be ineffective by psychologists and medical professionals. The practice is also incredibly harmful. The Trevor Project found in a peer-reviewed study that LGBTQ+ youth who underwent conversion therapy “were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times more likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year” when compared to those who had not. Allowing conversion therapy to continue is endangering lives.
When excusing their inaction on banning conversion therapy, the government argue that it is a complex and “technical” issue. This is corroborated by the fears of religious groups that banning conversion therapy could infringe on religious freedom and “criminalise church leaders”. Nevertheless, the charity Stonewall defines conversion therapy as “any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.” Under this definition, there is a clear distinction between religious teachings on LGBTQ+ issues which may include homophobic statements, for example preaching that homosexuality is a sin, and targeted activity intended to ‘convert’ or ‘cure’ people. Thus, religious leaders under freedom of religion protections would be unlikely to be prosecuted unless they were actively trying to ‘convert’ people, which would therefore class as conversion therapy.
The UK has a shameful history associated with conversion therapy and prosecuting LGBTQ+ communities. The best way to honour Alan Turing would be to ban conversion therapies once and for all.
Image: Bruce via Flickr