Those who know how militant and political I can get may be surprised to hear that I did not sign the widely publicised petition for an official apology to Alan Turing.
Of course this campaign is in many ways a very positive thing. It brought a dark page of the history of the LGBT community to the forefront, making the wider public aware of what some of us (many still alive today, no doubt) have had to endure from their own country.
It also served to highlight the way LGBT people have been treated by historians simply because of their unorthodox sexual orientation; how they have been prevented from taking their rightful place in the history books and have instead been firmly kept into the historical closet, regardless of the scope of their achievements.
As news comes that Gordon Brown has taken the highly unusual step to actually grant the demanded apology, I can’t help but wonder once again, as does Peter Tatchell (in a statement made today on the subject) and no doubt a few others, why Alan Turing should be singled out. Why should he be the only one deserving of an apology for the “utterly unfair” treatment he has received at the hand of the government of the time?
Tatchell, in his lukewarm praise of Brown’s apology as “commendable”, reminds us that an “estimated 100,000 British men [...] were also convicted of consenting, victimless same-sex relationships during the twentieth century”. And then there were the others before that whose lives were destroyed (all too often literally) for who they were and who they loved.
And this brings the next question, that of the worth of an apology. This is not a new debate. It is a particularly heated one, for example, in the black community around the issue of slavery, where it is complicated by the question of financial reparations.
An apology is, of course, a potent symbol, but what is an apology by people who weren’t involved to someone who is dead going to achieve? Especially when so many inequalities, humiliations and rebuffs are still visited on LGBT people today around the world. Indeed, at the same time that Brown was apologising to a British citizen for the treatment he received for his homosexuality, another British citizen was being killed in Jamaica for the exact same sorry reason.
Finally, let’s not forget, at the risk of seeming ungrateful perhaps, that while the PM may have apologised, Turing is still officially a criminal. He and all the others should be pardoned, not solely apologised to. What are you going to do about Mr Brown? An apology is not enough.
Nicolas Chinardet is involved with various LGBT community organisations and charities. Find out more at www.zefrog.eu.