LGBT History Month

John Glenton, Riverside's Executive Director for Care and Support

By John Glenton, Executive Director of Care and Support and Co-Chair of Riverside’s LGBT staff group Spectrum

I am delighted that last month, Riverside was ranked 36 in Stonewall’s league table of the top 100 LGBT-inclusive employers in Britain. 

We have made a massive leap of 24 places from our ranking at 60 in 2017, which I think demonstrates our commitment as an organisation to LGBT inclusivity. 

As February is LGBT History Month I started thinking about how the work of people from the LGBT community has had an impact on the UK over the years. 

You may have heard of Alan Turing, a World War II code-breaking hero who, as Winston Churchill would later recall, made the single biggest contribution to the allied victory during the conflict.

Turing was responsible for breaking the Enigma code, which the German U-boats used to communicate with each other. If U-boat Enigma had not been broken, and the war had continued for another two or three years, it’s estimated a further 14 to 21 million people might have been killed. 

Turing’s role in cracking the Enigma code was kept secret until the 1970s, and the full story was not known until the 1990s. Turing’s continuing brilliant work in mathematics and logic laid out the blueprint for modern computers and, in turn, the digital age.

But Alan Turing was not always treated with the respect he deserved. He was reportedly open about his lifestyle in a time when gay men were persecuted. Because of this, he was charged with ‘gross indecency’ under the Victorian-era Criminal Law Amendment Act, the same law used to imprison Oscar Wilde. 

During sentencing, a judge offered Turing the choice of prison or ‘organo-therapy’ – a type of chemical castration using estrogen to kill a man’s sex drive. Turing’s choice of hormone therapy was followed by his suicide in 1954.

Turing was far from alone in being persecuted because of his sexuality. More than 49,000 men, including politicians and celebrities, were arrested or experienced similar punishments during this time.

In 2009 the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology on behalf of the government to Alan Turing and his family, 55 years after he had taken his life. Following this apology the Queen issued a formal posthumous Royal Pardon – this pardon then lead to the so called ‘Turing’s Law’, which received royal assent in 2017. 

This legislation meant that thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality were posthumously pardoned. This was a massive step forward for LGBT equality and recognition that those convictions were unjust.

No one should be persecuted for being who they are and by attempting to right some of the wrongs in history we can ensure that equality for the LGBT community remains rightfully protected by law.

I find it hard to believe that within my lifetime it would have been a criminal offence to just be me, but we must also remember that in some countries around the world this is still the case for many people.