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A queer history of literature and science

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

A queer history of literature and science

At the New York City Pride Parade in New York in 2018.

At the New York City Pride Parade in New York in 2018. | Photo Credit: Andres Kudacki/AP

Literature and science are full of brilliant queer men and women who were hounded for their sexuality in their lifetime.

More than 50 years since the watershed Stonewall uprising in New York, the gay rights movement has come a long way in the US and across the globe. As a result of the concerted efforts of the global LGBTQIA+ community, the world is slowly beginning to recognise and honour the achievements of several pioneering men and women, especially in literature and science, many of whom were targeted and hounded during their lifetime for their sexual orientation.

In 1969, there was a series of protests by members of the gay community at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village following police raids, and the situation soon spiralled out of control. In the subsequent weeks there were several protests, followed by the formation of activist groups seeking the right to live peacefully while openly following their queer inclination.

A year later, the first gay pride marches took place in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. In a few years, organisations advocating gay rights were set up across the US and all over the world. From then on, gay pride marches, parades, and festivals have been held every year worldwide, attracting millions of participants. The biggest was held in 2019 in New York City to mark 50 years of the Stonewall uprising, and attracted an estimated 5 million participants.

Going beyond rallies and festivals, the global LGBTQIA+ community has been consistently working to decriminalise homosexuality and redeem the reputations of writers, artists and scientists who faced harassment earlier. Prominent among them are the legendary author and playwright Oscar Wilde and the brilliant scientist Alan Turing.

Wilde was convicted for “gross indecency” and sent to prison for two years. He died three years after release. In 2017, Wilde was among an estimated 50,000 men who were pardoned retrospectively for homosexual acts that were no longer considered offences in the UK under the Policing and Crime Act 2017 or what is commonly known as the Alan Turing law.

Alan Turing, codebreaker and computing pioneer, was also prosecuted in 1952 and even had to undergo chemical castration. Widely regarded as the “father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence”, his achievements were overshadowed by the controversy over his sexual orientation. He died by cyanide poisoning two years after his release. Turing, subsequently lauded and redeemed, received a posthumous pardon in 2013.

History is replete with such heartbreaking instances of lives cut short by social and legal hounding. As awareness about the need to build a more accepting social order grows, more nations are decriminalizing homosexuality worldwide.