Welcome to our new series, Queer History. Whilst historically the word queer has been used as a slur, we’re digging into the history books to bring you some of the most iconic and influential LGBTQ+ people who really do make us proud to be queer.
Alan Turing OBE was born in London in 1912 and is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
While at school, he formed a very close friendship with another male pupil which some people describe as his first love. The friend died however before anything could become of this. He then went on to study math at the University of Cambridge, eventually becoming a fellow at Kings College because of the strength of his dissertation. He studied for a PhD from Princeton university before returning to Cambridge.
From September 1938 he began working with the government code and cypher school to begin analysis of the Enigma cipher machine. By finetuning the work of others they created a machine known as the bombe which could break some of these codes. This was not the only advance he made during the war; he developed a technique to break the German naval and enigma code (a code which was more complex than any other), he improved the bombe machines even further, improved other cipher machines, and created a portable secure voice scrambler code named Delilah.
After the war he worked briefly for the National Physical Laboratory and Victoria University of Manchester on designing stored programme computers and some of the programmes for them to run. He also developed the Turing test, which was used to determine whether a computer can ‘think’.
In 1952 Turing began a relationship with young man, and was burgled shortly afterwards. In reporting this to the police he acknowledged that he was homosexual and he was then charged with gross indecency (this conviction was overturned in 2013) but avoided a prison sentence by accepting chemical castration. In 1954, he was found dead from cyanide poisoning. An inquest ruled that it was suicide.
He was finally given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013. At the same time the government also announced a new law, informally called the Alan Turing law, which serves as an amnesty to retroactively pardon any men who were convicted over historical homosexual acts. He is also set to become the first member of the LGBT community to be on a Bank of England note –he will be on the new £50 when it officially launches on the 23rd of June 2021.
Anne Lister was born in 1791 in West Yorkshire and is quite often known as the first modern lesbian. Born into a relatively wealthy family for landowners she inherited various family properties and shares in infrastructure.
Growing up wealthy meant that she attended good schools, which was where she began her first lesbian love affair at 13 with a girl called Eliza. This was the first of many affairs at school. At age 15 she began her famous diary, much of which is in code. It details both her daily life and her thoughts on her lesbian identity, affairs and the methods she used for seduction.
Sometimes referred to as gentleman Jack she always dressed in black, was often described as appearing masculine and took part in many masculine activities, such as owning a colliery. At some point in the early 1830s she began a relationship with Ann Walker, and while they could never officially get married in 1834 they took communion together at church and considered themselves married after that, even having a honeymoon to France and Switzerland. The church where they held their defacto wedding, Holy Trinity Church in Godramgate, York, has recently been marked with a blue plaque. This was also their first ever blue plaque to be bordered with rainbow colours in recognition of LGBT history.
Using both of their fortunes they renovated Shibden Hall and travelled quite extensively, being involved in the first official ascent of the Vignemale mountain in the Pyrenees and as some of the few Western Europeans to explore the Caucasus. This trip was her last, she died of a fever in Kutaisi, Georgia aged just 49. Her body was brought back to UK where she was buried in Halifax.
Of course, you might have already recognised the name but she was the title character of an 8 part drama series on the BBC in 2019.