LGBT Pride and Memorialisation

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In the lead-up to Manchester Pride 2016 Remember Me Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Louis Bailey reflects on memorialisation within the Manchester LGBT community.

This year’s Manchester Pride is fast approaching and will be held on the August Bank Holiday weekend.  Annual Pride events take place in cities around the world, often between June and August, and mark a coming together of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.  They are a time of celebration – of sexual diversity and gender variance – and a reclamation of otherwise stigmatised and marginalised identities from a long (continued) history of discrimination and violence.  Key to the weekend festivities is the Pride march, which comprises a procession of community and organisation floats – filled with many a sparkling and dancing boy, girl and bear – making its way around the city centre.  This spectacle component is an important public and political display, highlighting the pride and visibility that exists within these communities.

In Manchester, Sackville Gardens – a small park at the heart of the gay village – forms a calm, quiet epicentre amidst the Pride activities and the hustle and bustle of the city’s gay nightlife.  The park is filled with moving tributes to a dark and troubled past which informs much of the present-day LGBT resistance – the Beacon of Hope (the UK’s only permanent HIV/AIDS memorial), the Transgender Remembrance Memorial (dedicated to the memory of those murdered due to transphobia) and, in the centre of the park, the Alan Turing Memorial.  This is a bronze statue and bench commemorating the life and achievements of Alan Turing (1912 – 1954), a gay man, code breaker and pioneer of modern computing.

Alan long shot
The Alan Turing Memorial was funded by the Alan Turing Memorial Fund and was the work of Glyn Hughes, an industrial sculptor. Photo copyright Katja Knezevic.

Turing is now recognised as playing a pivotal role during the Second World War and has been credited as cracking the coded messages of the German forces which has since been predicted to have shortened the war by several years, saving countless lives in the process.  He went on to help design an early prototype for the modern computer, among a number of other significant achievements and advancements across the fields of mathematics and chemistry, most of which occurred during his time at the University of Manchester.  In 1952, Turing was prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ (homosexual acts) at a time when same-sex activity between men was illegal within British law and being gay was seen as a mental illness.  He underwent chemical castration as an alternative to a prison sentence; chemical castration being viewed as a means of ‘treating’ homosexuality via the use of oestrogen to lower libido and sexual activity.  Turing died two years later, with the inquest ruling a verdict of suicide via cyanide poisoning.  In 2009, and after a public campaign, Turing was finally granted a public apology from the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the ‘appalling way he was treated’. He later received a Royal Pardon.

The Alan Turing memorial statue was unveiled in 2001.  A plaque on the ground in front of the statue reads: ‘Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice’, followed by a Bertrand Russell quote: ‘Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture’.  Turing is seated on a bench, holding an apple with the motto ‘Founder of Computer Science’ written in relief along the bench in code: ‘IEKYF RQMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ’.

The memorial has been the focal point of a number of festivities over the years, including the London 2012 Olympic Torch which stopped off at Turing’s statue to commemorate his 100th birthday.  Tourists and locals alike pay homage to him and he is adorned with the pride flag and touching tributes during the annual Pride festivities.  His statue serves as a reminder of the price paid for prejudice but his accomplishments are testament to the contributions and legacies of the LGBT community itself in all its heartfelt, gritted and resilient glory.

Dr Louis Bailey is a Research Fellow on the ‘Remember Me’ Memorialisation Study and will be leading a case study on the ways in which trans people are commemorated after death.  Part of this will involve participant-observation work at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Manchester.  For more information about this aspect of the study, please see http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/rememberme/theproject/whowasshetransidentitie.aspx.

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