Sir Alan Turing?

Days to Centenary: 256

In 2009 the British government formally apologized to Alan Turing for his treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system, which charged him with gross indecency based on his sexual orientation and then forced him to choose between prison and chemical castration.  Turing chose the latter, but shortly thereafter committed suicide.

In the apology, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

“[O]n behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”

Well, now the Equality Forum, a U.S.-based national and international GLBT civil rights organization with an educational focus, is proposing that he get “much better” than a mere apology — they propose that he be knighted.  As Malcolm Lazin, its Executive Director said:

“Alan Turing is one of the most important figures of the 20th century… Despite his exceptional accomplishments, homophobia castrated him and led to his suicide. More than an apology is required. Alan Turing deserves to be posthumously knighted by the Queen.”

Knighthood may be awarded  for a pre-eminent contribution in any field of activity, through:

  • achievement or service to the community usually, but not exclusively, at national level
  • in a capacity which will be recognised by peer groups as inspirational and significant nationally and
  • which demonstrates sustained commitment

I think there’s little doubt that Turing’s achievements meet the requirements.  Not to knock anyone else, but if Bob Hope and Spike Milligan deserve knighthoods, surely Alan Turing deserves one.  Hell, he deserves one for his war work alone.

"Knighthood: Mantles & Insignia Of The Principal British Orders Of Knighthood" - (1932)

"Knighthood: Mantles & Insignia Of The Principal British Orders Of Knighthood" - (1932)

If there was ever a moment when sufficient attention might be focused on Turing and his achievments to have him be knighted, one would think that moment would come during the Turing Year in 2012.

Until 1993 the UK honours system did not accept nominations from members of the public.  The nomination package now states that “any person or persons may make a nomination by completing a nomination form and forwarding it to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat.”  The UK government’s information page regarding honours similarly states that “anyone” can make a nomination.  Neither souce limits the nominations process to UK citizens, although knowing government institutions such a limitation might well exist somewhere in the fine print — if anyone out there knows of one, please email me at and I’ll update this post.

Barring such a hidden limitation, it appears that the nomination process is open to anyone, in the UK or elsewhere.  Where a nomination already exists, one may also submit letters of support.

Do Alan Turing a solid!  Go to the “Nominating Someone for an Honour” page here and help get him the knighthood he clearly deserves.

Addendum from the Better Late Than Never Department

I only discovered after completing the above post that in fact John Graham-Cumming — the writer who successfully lobbied for an official government apology for Turing — has also written a letter to the Queen suggesting that Turing receive a posthumous knighthood.  The letter was written in 2009, so you’d think I’d have come across it in my original research, but better late than never.

The thing is, though, that as far as I know, no one has actually filled out the official form and submitted it.  Knowing bureaucracies, this might actually be essential.  Given that I’m half a world away at the moment, I suggest that someone in the UK do it, although if no one acts soon I will have to take it on myself.  Alternatively, if someone has actually made a formal submission on Turing’s behalf and someone out there knows of it, please send me details at and I’ll update this post again when you do.

Damn — not to disparage a knighthood, but I should think it’s the least Turing deserves.  Forget his prosecution and persecution; based solely on his contributions he should have nothing less.


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