Computer scientist Alan Turing has been announced by the Bank of England as the face of the new £50 note, which will go into circulation starting in 2021.
It’s a significant moment for LGBTQ representation in the UK, acknowledging Turing as a war hero whose impact on computer science, artificial intelligence, and wider society still echoes today.
“Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today,” said Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester on Monday.
“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as a war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and pathbreaking,” Carney said. “Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand."
Absolutely over the moon that Alan Turing will feature on the new £50 note. It cannot even begin to make up for how society let him down (to put it lightly) as the gay scientist to who we owe so much, but I’m so glad we’re beginning to recognise the work that he did. pic.twitter.com/3jxSjGb34G— Nate Higgins 🏳️🌈 (@natehiggins) July 15, 2019
Turing was a codebreaker working on deciphering Nazi messages at Bletchley Park during World War II — and his work is widely credited with having helped significantly shorten the length of the war and save millions of lives as a result.
Following the war, however, Turing was persecuted for being gay, which was only decriminalised in England in 1967. He was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1952 after having sex with a man.
Following his conviction, he was chemically castrated, barred from working for Government Communications headquarters (GCHQ), and died by suicide in 1954.
He has since become, according to PinkNews, one of the UK’s most celebrated LGBTQ icons, and was granted a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.
This inspired Turing’s family, alongside LGBTQ activists, to campaign to secure pardons for all men who were wrongfully convicted of "gross indecency" as a result of a consenting adult relationship.
Before the general elections in 2015, campaigners handed a petition in to Downing Street with over 630,000 signatures, demanding justice for those who had been wrongfully convicted.
When the UK government formally passed a law in February 2017 pardoning more than 50,000 men who had been convicted for having consensual same-sex relationships, it was nicknamed the Turing Law.
Superb news - Alan Turing's work to crack the Enigma code is widely regarded as having helped shorten the war by at least two years. Treated disgracefully in his lifetime for being gay, it's good to see the UK treating his achievements with the regard that they deserve https://t.co/c1ouCuZbNF— Rupert Myers (@RupertMyers) July 15, 2019
The new note will feature an image of Turing taken in 1951 and his signature taken from the visitor’s book at Bletchley Park, according to the bank.
The Bank of England announced a public contest in November 2018 to find an eminent British scientist who would replace inventor James Watt on the £50 note.
It sparked a whole host of nominations — 227,299 to be exact — many of which attempted to improve the representation of marginalized communities on English bank notes, through presenting a woman, LGBTQ person, or person of color.
Carney said at the time that the “bank will properly consider all protected characteristics, and seek to represent on its banknotes characters reflecting the diversity of British society, its culture, and its values.”
Among other names suggested were Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin, Dorothy Hodgkin, and many more.