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Freya Whiteside: “There is a Distinct Sadness That the Turing Bill Couldn’t Pass”

The slate sculpture by Stephen Kettle.

A bill designed to pardon all men living with same-sex offence convictions has been halted in parliament after 25 minutes of filibustering by Tory MP Sam Gyimah.

Known as the Turing Bill and named after computer scientist and codebreaker Alan Turing, who was pardoned posthumously of gross indecency nearly 60 years after his suicide, the bill would have provided an automatic pardon for the estimated 15,000 gay and bisexual men living with convictions, while also pardoning all of those who died with a conviction.

”many of those applying for their conviction to be disregarded have already suffered a lifetime of stigma”

Although men convicted of same-sex offences can currently apply for their crime to be disregarded, only 83 of 320 applicants have ever been successful in this trying process. As Labour MP Chris Byrant pointed out in his moving argument for the bill, many of those applying for their conviction to be disregarded have already suffered a lifetime of stigma in a society that has historically failed gay and bisexual men (and continues to do so).

Individually pardoning each convicted man inevitably carries sinister undertones. Turing may have been allowed a pardon due to his genius during the Second World War, but what of men who were of no such value to the state? Were they somehow more deserving of the imprisonment and medical intervention that punished same-sex offences? That those convicted must request a pardon and will most likely be denied one reveals a severe lack of empathy from a government apparently attempting to make amends.

To men who have suffered a conviction, the Turing Bill could only ever have been a small compensation; to those men who had not been convicted but have spent a life within the same confines of a society ashamed of homosexuality, the Turing Bill may have meant even less. It is therefore only right that SNP MP John Nicholson, who proposed the Turing Bill, called on the government to prioritise the living rather than only pardoning the dead – and there is a distinct sadness that even the humble Turing Bill could not pass.

”there is only deep sadness to be felt for the men who will not be pardoned for convictions that never should have been crimes”

For the Turing Bill would only be a small step in what is owed to the community of gay and bisexual men in this country. A country where relevant sex education is still not compulsory in the childhoods of these men, and a country where 1 in 20 will grow up to live with HIV, a country where these men must fight for the availability of PrEP, a drug that could drastically reduce these figures and change the lives of many. In ‘Brexit Britain’ where homophobic hate crimes have more than doubled, the government’s wish to ignore the innocence of a living, breathing, and hurting community is nothing more than wilful ignorance.

After the deaths of icons, the revered handshake of a princess, and the smug stamp of the Tory party over the legalisation of same-sex marriage, the failure of the Turing Bill provides persuasive evidence of a government that does not respect the needs of a community who must constantly heal the fissures inflicted by a society steeped in homophobia. After heartfelt scenes in parliament, there is only deep sadness to be felt for the men who will not be pardoned for convictions that never should have been crimes.

Freya Whiteside

Image: Steve Parker via Flickr

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