United Kingdom — Britain’s secret intelligence agency has apologized for the “horrifying” treatment of one of its most famous members, as well as for the organisation’s historic prejudice against homosexuality. Speaking at a conference organised by LGBT rights charity, Stonewall, Robert Hannigan — director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) — paid tribute to former staff member Alan Turing, who was dismissed by the espionage service over his sexuality in the 1960s. Hannigan went on to apologise to all those unfairly dismissed as a result of the archaic policies, which included a ban on LGBT people joining the agency until the 1990s.
Described as a visionary and a brilliant mathematician, codebreaker Alan Turing’s skills are said to have shortened World War Two by two or more years, yet he was hounded from the secret service because of his sexuality. Known as the father of the modern computer, Turing led the well-known Bletchley Park codebreakers who cracked the encryption devices used by the Nazis.
When his home was burgled in 1952, the resulting police investigation uncovered that Turing was in a relationship with a young man. Homosexuality was still illegal in Britain, and he was ousted from his job following a conviction for indecency. Given the choice between prison and being treated with an experimental hormone to “fix” his sexual orientation — essentially chemical castration — he chose the latter. The treatment rendered him impotent and, in 1954, he took his own life by eating an apple laced with cyanide.
Hannigan said he attended the Stonewall conference to champion the right of people to be themselves. Apologising for the treatment of Alan Turing and many others discriminated against by the intelligence agency, he added:
“The fact that it was common practice for decades reflected the intolerance of the times and the pressures of the cold war, but it does not make it any less wrong and we should apologise for it.
“Their suffering was our loss and it was the nation’s loss too because we cannot know what Ian and others who were dismissed would have gone on to do and achieve. We did not learn our lesson from Turing.”
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