LIbLInk: John Sharkey: Why I fought to get a pardon for gay and bi men

Much of the coverage of the new law pardoning thousands of gay men for historic convictions became law last week. The Lib Dem peer who fought for this for years, John Sharkey, has written for Pink News about why this was such an important issue for him.

He started with an account of how homosexual acts became a crime in the first place – almost casually.

On 6 August 1885, late at night in the Commons debate on the Criminal Law Amendment Act, Henry Labouchère suddenly produced an amendment to the Bill before the House. This amendment criminalised homosexual acts. The only discussion was over the penalty to be imposed. Labouchère had proposed a maximum of one year. Sir Henry James suggested two years and Labouchère agreed. The whole debate had four speakers, including Labouchère. It lasted four minutes and consisted of a total of 440 words, but 75,000 men were convicted under this amendment, and Alan Turing was one of those.

At university, he had been taught by Turing’s closest friends and got to know his story: 

Turing led the way in cracking the Enigma code. This alone probably turned the Battle of the Atlantic. Respected commentators estimate that this shortened the war by two years, saving many, many thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of lives. This was Turing’s work. Turing is also one of the fathers, if not the father, of computer science. Every time anyone, anywhere, uses a computer for any purpose there is a kind of debt to Turing. And Turing was treated with terrible cruelty, as were all convicted under the Labouchère amendment.

People recognise that Turing was a hero and a very great man. As long ago as 1999, Time magazine named Turing as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. In 2002, Turing was ranked 21st in the BBC’s poll of the 100 greatest Britons. On the centenary of Turing’s birth, there were a very large number of events all over the world celebrating Turing’s life and his achievements. More than 40 countries were involved in those celebrations. He was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later.

The Government know that Turing was a hero and a very great man. They acknowledge that he was cruelly treated. They must have seen the esteem in which he is held here and around the world.

The Government had previously fought John Sharkey’s attempts to secure posthumous pardons for those convicted under the Labouchere law. The Justice Minister didn’t let any of that show last week when he tried to take credit for it. The reality is that if John Sharkey hadn’t pushed for this for so long, it wouldn’t have happened.

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One Comment

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Feb '17 - 8:41pm

    I saw the play Breaking the Code in the theatre twenty years ago with Derek Jacobi, who repeated the terrific performance on television. Turing was one of the most horribly maligned in our history.Some might not have known of him till recent media , any who do know the man for what he was , one of the giants. Well done Lord Sharkey . Hope Turing is at peace.

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