England finally understands that Alan Turing — the gay code-breaker who helped win World War II — has value.
The Bank of England has revealed a £50 banknote honoring the English hero, whose accomplishments were never honored in his lifetime; in fact, he was convicted of violating antigay Victorian laws and punished with chemical castration.
In a statement that seems to aim to undo this shameful legacy, Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, called Turing “one of Britain’s most important scientists"
"Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War," Bailey said. "However in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist, and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay, and was treated appallingly as a result. By placing him on our new polymer £50 banknote, we are celebrating his achievements, and the values he symbolises.”
The banknote will begin circulating June 23, Turing's birthday, which coincidentally occurs in Pride Month. The featured image is from a 1951 photograph taken by the studio Elliott & Fry, and quotes the mathematician: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”
Turing was part of a team located in Bletchley Park that helped discover and decode German ciphers. His success did not protect him from "gross indecency" laws that criminalized his sexuality; two years after his chemical castration, he died at age 41 of cyanide poisoning, which was ruled a suicide at the time.
The British government would not issue an apology for Turing's treatment until 2009. He was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. And 2017 legislation informally bearing his name, the "Alan Turing law," enacted a retroactive pardon for everyone convicted under historical antigay legislation.
“Alan Turing’s appearance on the £50 note is a landmark moment in our history," said Jeremy Fleming, director of the U.K. intelligence organization Government Communications Headquarters, which oversaw the Bletchley Park operation. "Not only is it a celebration of his scientific genius which helped to shorten the war and influence the technology we still use today, it also confirms his status as one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world.
"Turing was embraced for his brilliance and persecuted for being gay. His legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive.”