'Imitation Game' is right: UK must pardon thousands of homosexuals

Alan Turing, portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "The Imitation Game" by Benedict Cumberbatch, was one of many convicted under the UK's anti-gay laws.

Story highlights

  • Campaign grows to force UK government to pardon 49,000 men convicted under anti-gay laws
  • LGBT campaigner Chad Griffin says story of WW2 codebreaker Alan Turing reminds us we cannot ignore history
  • Griffin: Work Turing did helped defeat fascism, and yet in return, UK government took away his freedom

Chad Griffin is President of the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality organization. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.
This article was originally published earlier month; since then a petition to pardon those convicted under UK anti-gay laws has grown to more than 500,000.

(CNN)A couple of weeks ago, the rally cry that had been bubbling in the wake of "The Imitation Game" suddenly grew louder. Matt Breen, editor-in-chief of The Advocate and one of the most impassioned, trustworthy voices out there when it comes to politics and civil liberties, started a petition. Visit Pardon49k.org and you'll see that it's gathered more than 272,000 signatures already and counting.

Chad Griffin
Its call to action: a plea to the British government to grant pardons to the estimated 49,000 men who were convicted under the UK's anti-gay laws, just as Alan Turing -- the computer scientist and World War II codebreaker -- was in the 1950s.
Truth be told, most apologies given would be posthumous like the one Turing received from Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth II a few years back. But to ignore the injustice they all suffered just because they're not there to hear us is to ignore history, do further injustice to their families, and that's something we quite simply cannot do.
    Hearing of the overwhelming response that Matt's petition was receiving, outspoken gay actor/comedian Stephen Fry echoed the sentiment at a London screening of the film.
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    Members of Turing's family and the movie's cast joined Fry in drafting an open letter to Britain's political leaders, including David Cameron, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- insisting that those men deserved to have the stains of criminal conviction removed from their names.
    Benedict Cumberbatch, who so exquisitely plays Turing in the movie, said it best perhaps: "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. Sixty 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."
    Indeed, part of what makes telling Turing's story so important is that thousands like him experienced the same cruelty as he did, enduring relentless discrimination simply for attempting to live complete, fulfilled lives.
    I've been a huge supporter of "The Imitation Game" from before its premiere and see it as this year's best film because, as I said, it so poignantly reminds us that we cannot ignore history.
    In minority communities like ours, we look to stories of legendary role models like Turing or Harvey Milk for inspiration. Instead of relying on oral traditions from family or friends, we must look to historians, artists, authors and moviemakers to help ensure that we remember where we came from. The heroes of our movement, alive or dead, are there to remind us of what we still need to strive towards.
    Turing's many achievements should have earned him royal accolades in the UK. His impact warranted no less than a Presidential Medal of Freedom or Nobel Peace Prize on this side of the Atlantic.
    The work he did helped to defeat the spread of fascism, and yet in return, the government took away his freedom. His persecution at the hands of their laws ended his life with pain and suffering. That same injustice was shared by close to 50,000 of our LGBT forebears, who selflessly accomplished feats that benefit us still today.
    "The Imitation Game" and efforts inspired by it, like Matt's petition, guarantee that Turing and men like him won't ever be forgotten.