Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry
British stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry have joined a growing campaign to see the thousands of men convicted of homosexuality in the UK pardoned.
Homosexuality was only legalised in Britain in 1967, when the law for “gross indecency” (section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885) was overturned.
By that point, more than 49,000 men had been persecuted, criminalised and jailed. Among these was Alan Turing, who was recently immortalised by Cumberbatch in the acclaimed film The Imitation Game.
When he was convicted in 1952 for his homosexuality, the mathematical genius was given the choice of imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose the latter and died two years later, possibly by suicide, at the age of 41.
In 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous royal pardon, but the many others who were also prosecuted for homosexuality retain their criminal records, including all those who’ve passed away. (Playwright Oscar Wilde was also famously convicted under section 11 and was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour.)
After a screening of The Imitation Game in London last week, the openly gay Fry took part in a discussion in which he addressed the issue.
“Should Alan Turing have been pardoned just because he was a genius, when somewhere between 50 to 70 thousand other men were imprisoned, chemically castrated, had their lives ruined or indeed committed suicide because of the laws under which Turing suffered?” he asked.
“There is a general feeling that perhaps if he should be pardoned, then perhaps so should all of those men, whose names were ruined in their lifetime, but who still have families.”
Fry added: “It was a nasty, malicious and horrific law and one that allowed so much blackmail and so much misery and so much distress. Turing stands as a figure symbolic to his own age, in the way that Oscar Wilde was, who suffered under a more but similar one.”
In an e-mail to The Hollywood Reporter, Cumberbatch also expressed his support.
“Alan Turing was not only prosecuted, but quite arguably persuaded to end his own life early, by a society who called him a criminal for simply seeking out the love he deserved, as all human beings do,” wrote the actor.
“60 years later, that same government claimed to ‘forgive’ him by pardoning him. I find this deplorable, because Turing’s actions did not warrant forgiveness — theirs did — and the 49,000 other prosecuted men deserve the same,” he said.
A petition has been launched calling on the British government to pardon all the men who were persecuted and criminalised under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Sign it here.