The U.K. Posthumously Pardons Thousands Of Gay Men The U.K. justice minister has pardoned thousands of gay men convicted under "gross indecency" laws, which made homosexuality illegal until 1967.
NPR logo

The U.K. Posthumously Pardons Thousands Of Gay Men

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/499077095/499077096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The U.K. Posthumously Pardons Thousands Of Gay Men

The U.K. Posthumously Pardons Thousands Of Gay Men

The U.K. Posthumously Pardons Thousands Of Gay Men

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/499077095/499077096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The U.K. justice minister has pardoned thousands of gay men convicted under "gross indecency" laws, which made homosexuality illegal until 1967. Rachel Barnes, great-niece of Alan Turing, one of the most famous men convicted under the law, talks with NPR's Michel Martin about the decision.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thousands of gay men convicted under gross indecency laws in the United Kingdom will soon be pardoned posthumously. The laws made homosexuality illegal in the U.K. until 1967. The mass pardon is being called the Alan Turing law, named after the British World War II code breaker known as the father of modern computers. Turing was convicted under the old law and chemically castrated after the war. He eventually took his own life. He was posthumously pardoned in 2013.

But activists, including Turing's great-niece, Rachel Barnes, continued pressuring Parliament to pardon all people convicted of homosexuality under the law. I reached Rachel Barnes at her home in Somerset County, England earlier today. And I asked her how she felt when she heard the pardons were coming.

RACHEL BARNES: We were absolutely delighted for all those families who have campaigned for decades to reach this day. It was a momentous day for all our family when we heard that Alan Turing was going to be pardoned back in 2013. One of the best days ever, and we celebrated like mad. But the same pardon is deserved by everybody else.

MARTIN: Can I ask you - did you know your great-uncle when you were growing up? I don't remember whether you were born when he was still alive.

BARNES: Unfortunately, Alan Turing died nine years before I was born. But obviously, during my childhood, my family has told me so, so much about this incredible man who did so much for our country.

MARTIN: In fact, I wanted to ask you about that because so much of his life was secret, both the parts that were lauded and also the parts that ultimately brought him so much, you know, pain or were - and I just wondered, how did it come out that he had played such a critical role? And I was also...

BARNES: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Curious about how you learned about his sexuality. I mean, I'm thinking that many family members will have had a relative who was gay back in a time when it was very necessary to hide this fact. In fact - so I was just wondering how this all came out to you.

BARNES: Yes. As we grew up, we were told that Alan Turing was gay. And we were told that he was prosecuted, that he was convicted and had the choice of going to prison for two years or otherwise having a course of these hormonal drugs. It's a very hard story to take on board, really.

MARTIN: It is a hard story to take on board. I was wondering whether after "The Imitation Game," which came out in 2015 - I would assume it made it easier for your family after that because everybody knew this story now...

BARNES: Yes.

MARTIN: ...And it wasn't just something that you carried within yourselves.

BARNES: Yes, it was absolutely incredible. I mean, literally within a couple of months, it seems that most of our country and quite a lot of the world have actually heard about Alan Turing. And I'm quite sure that most people were really, really shocked and had absolutely no idea about how gay people used to be treated.

MARTIN: That's Rachel Barnes. She's the grand-niece of Alan Turing, known as the father of modern computers. And Rachel Barnes was kind enough to join us by phone from her home in Somerset County, England. Ms. Barnes, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BARNES: Thank you.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.