Alan Turing, the imminent British mathematician and war hero, was recently given a royal pardon for the homosexuality charges that was a precursor to his suicide in 1954. The reaction to this has been been rather mixed, from those seeing the gesture as a way forward for LGBTQ rights across the Commonwealth and beyond, to those who believe singling out Turing does not negate the suffering of many, and such a symbolic gesture does not take into consideration the devastation and misery caused by anti-homosexuality laws around the world, especially in places where British imperialism was key in instituting such laws. I firmly gravitate towards the latter attitude, especially considering the recent events in India, which inherited the archaic British laws during the colonial period; and would furthermore like to add, that the pardon itself is an affront to Turing, and if the Crown has any real wish to correct past mistakes, it should begin by apologizing, not pardoning Turing, as he did not commit any crimes.
In 2009, Section 377, a colonial era legislation criminalizing gay sex in India was struck down by the Delhi High Court. After receiving appeals from various religious groups and others, the Supreme Court of India upheld the ban on gay sex in December 2013. This was met with furor and disappointment from LGBTQ and allied communities around the world. Amidst this, the so-called ‘pardon’ of Turing feels ostensibly very, very wrong, since countries that have inherited the British legal system from colonial times continue to suffer from its ill-effects, including stigmatization of and violence against LGBTQ people. I’m currently in India visiting my family after 2 years. I can see firsthand how many of my friends are affected by this colonial legacy, and even for non-queer folk, this is simply an affirmation of patriarchal values.
Pardoning Turing goes beyond him as a singular entity in history, and however symbolic this gesture may be, it’s incomplete, if it is indeed the Crown’s wish to normalize non-heterosexual relations. Let us not forget that Alan Turing died in the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, and in that context, this farce of a pardon is callous and offensive to the countless people who have suffered in the UK and beyond due to this absurd stigma against non-heterosexual sex. If the Crown really intended to create a world wherein there is greater acceptance of LGBTQ people, it should begin by apologizing for past mistakes, not ‘pardoning’ those who transgressed against ludicrous laws.