Photo by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines
Story Center Productions President Patrick Sammon hosted a viewing of his documentary on the life and tribulations of British mathematician and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing at MTSU’s 2018 LGBT+ College Conference on Friday.
The film, titled “Codebreaker,” covered Turing’s legal struggles as a gay man in a time when British law forbade it. The film also explained his contributions to early computing and cracking the code to the German “Enigma machine,” a device that allowed for encrypted communication between German commanders and U-boat submarines in World War II.
Although Turing created “The Bombe,” an early computing machine that could be used to aid other British code breakers in deciphering German messages, he was hardly treated as a hero.
After the war, when Turing reported that he had been robbed by a man he had been seeing in secret, British police instead shifted their investigation from a burglary to Turing’s homosexuality.
Because of Britain’s laws against homosexuality as “gross indecency” under the Labouchere Amendment at the time, Turing was prosecuted in 1952. He was offered a choice between one year in prison or “Chemical Castration,” where he would be injected with Stilboestrol, a drug that would be used to lower his testosterone and replace it with estrogen hormones. The idea was that this drug could “correct” homosexuality, which was thought to be a clinical disorder.
After choosing Chemical Castration, Turing began to have both physical and mental side effects. The film explained that his mind became more lethargic, he began to grow breasts and his testicles shrank. Upon completing his “treatment,” Turing realized that the effects from taking the drug were irreversible.
In 1954, Turing took his own life using Cyanide poison. He was 41 years old.
Sammon spoke to the audience and answered questions after the film ended.
“Turing was, in the 20th century, the most amazing visionary about understanding where the ones and zeroes would go and how that would change the world,” Sammon said. “He had this incredible vision about technology in the modern world, and unfortunately, he didn’t have the same vision for how society might change to provide a more open view of people like him.”
Sammon provided information to the audience about what happened to Britain’s laws against homosexuality shortly after Turing’s death.
“In 1957 in the U.K., something (was) set up called the Wolfenden Commission, which was charged with examining the country’s anti-sodomy law,” Sammon said. “They eventually recommended that the law be repealed. It didn’t happen by parliament for another 10 years. But, you wonder, if Turing could have lasted a few more years if he would have had a vision about where society was going, and maybe he would have found a place (in society).”
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