Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

LGBT+ figures you should know: Alan Turing and May Toupie Lowther

LGBT + figures you should know
Arta Uka

MA student in Conflict, Security and Development

22 February 2024

To commemorate LGBT+ History Month in the UK, MA student Arta Uka features the lives of the scientist Alex Turing and professional tennis player May Toupie Lowther, exploring their important contributions to the global security studies landscape.

Alan Turing

“A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing him that it was human” – Alan Turing, 1950, Turing Test

Alan Turing, born in 1912 in London, emerged as a pioneering force in computer science, revolutionising modern computing with his groundbreaking work on the Turing machine, a theoretical mathematical model of computation introduced in 1936 to provide a key understanding of the computer’s capabilities and limitations. However, Turin’s significance transcends the realms of technology innovation.

During World War II, he played a pivotal role working at Bletchley Park, a central site in England for codebreakers, where his brilliance in codebreaking – the process of deciphering or decoding encrypted messages or data- facilitated the decryption of the German Enigma machine's, which was used to encrypt sensitive military communications. This was invaluable intelligence to the Allied forces, as enabled them to anticipate enemy movements and strategies.

Despite his invaluable contributions to national security during the war, Turing faced persecution and discrimination due to his homosexuality. In 1952, he was prosecuted under the laws of 'gross indecency’, which criminalised homosexual acts at the time. To avoid imprisonment, Turing underwent chemical castration, a barbaric and dehumanising procedure. Additionally, his security clearance was revoked, depriving him of the opportunity to continue his work with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). This persecution culminated in a tragic end with his untimely death by suicide in 1954.

However, his legacy endures until today; the posthumous pardon he received in 2013, granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and known as the Alan Turing Law, which was officially enacted in the UK in 2017, symbolises a belated recognition of his immense contributions and a step towards rectifying historical injustices.

Turing's story, immortalised in the film "The Imitation Game”, serves as a reminder of how the experiences of LGBT+ individuals have been overlooked in the recognition of their work in shaping pivotal moments of history, including within the intricate tapestry of security studies.

May Toupie Lowther

Another key British LGBT+ figure is May Toupie Lowther, who defied societal norms and expectations to leave an indelible mark on the security landscape, particularly during the tumultuous years of World War I. She was born in 1874 in London, and gained recognition as a skilled tennis player, competing in prestigious tournaments such as the Wimbledon Championships five times. In addition to her prowess on the tennis court, she was also proficient in fencing.

Throughout the war, Lowther's dedication and leadership were instrumental in the establishment of the Hackett-Lowther Ambulance Unit, the first all-female ambulance unit. Collaborating closely with her partner, Elsie Hackett, the unit operated on the front lines in the region of Compiègne, France, providing vital medical aid and transportation for wounded soldiers. Their courageous efforts, alongside those of British, French, Irish, and American female personnel, not only saved countless lives but also challenged stereotypes and societal norms.

Lowther's legacy extends beyond her wartime exploits. Her receipt of the Croix de Guerre in 1918 stands as a testament to her courage and service, underscoring the importance of acknowledging and celebrating the diverse contributions of LGBT figures within the security realm. She died in 1944 at the age of 69, during the midst of World War II.

As we reflect on their legacies, the lives of Alan Turing and May Toupie Lowther serve as a powerful reminder of the transformative impact of diversity and inclusion and the importance of amplifying the voices of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, in the pursuit of a safer and more equal world.

LGBT + figures you should know

In celebration of LGBT + History Month, our students are shining a light on some inspiring LGBT figures you may not of heard of from the field of conflict and security.

Latest news