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Celebrating the Binary Birthday of a Computer Science Legend: Alan Turing at 111

Greetings, people of the world!

It's George Nicholls, your trusted voice behind Queer the Norm. I have a particularly poignant reflection to share with you today.

Some of you may know that before my journey into advocacy, I embarked on a Computer Science degree, a path that unfortunately, I didn't see through to completion.

During my time at university, I was grappling with my sexuality, a hidden struggle that caused mental turmoil I found impossible to quell. I was in the closet, and the journey towards accepting myself as a gay man seemed unbearably difficult. Looking back, I realise that the presence of an openly queer role model in my field of study could have made all the difference. Someone like Alan Turing.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we marked what would have been Turing's 111th birthday on 23rd June. This number holds a special significance to those of us in the tech world. In binary, the language of computers that Turing himself revolutionised, 111 represents the number seven. Turing was a pioneer in the development of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. He provided the foundation for the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which is considered a model of a general-purpose computer ​1​. Celebrating Turing's 111th birthday in binary is not only fitting, but deeply symbolic, paying tribute to his monumental contributions to the world of computing.

But Turing's legacy stretches beyond the realm of professional achievements. Turing was an openly gay man in an era when homosexuality was a criminal act in the UK. In 1952, he faced prosecution for homosexual acts and underwent chemical castration as an alternative to prison. His life ended tragically short in 1954​1​.

Posthumously, Turing has been granted the recognition he so rightly deserved. He was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, and the "Alan Turing law" was enacted in 2017, pardoning men who were cautioned or convicted under archaic legislation that criminalised homosexual acts ​1​. Turing's legacy continues to echo through the halls of LGBTQ+ history, serving as an enduring symbol of the struggle for equality.

Just last year, Turing's image was emblazoned on the UK's £50 note, a fitting tribute to his enduring impact on society and science ​1​. It stands as a powerful testament to progress and acceptance, a long overdue recognition of Turing's invaluable contributions. As I reflect on my own journey, I can't help but think how different my university experience might have been had I known about Turing. His courage, resilience, and outstanding contributions to his field could have been a beacon for me during those challenging times.

While we can't rewrite history, we can take lessons from it. As we belatedly celebrate Alan Turing's binary birthday, I am reminded of the importance of visibility and representation. Turing's story underscores the value of every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation, and serves as a powerful reminder of the extraordinary contributions of queer individuals to our world.

Here's to you, Alan Turing, on your binary birthday. Your story continues to inspire and affirm us all. We are part of a rich and vibrant history, and with each passing day, we write another line in the code of progress.

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