The times they are a’changing

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGEThat Alan Turing was a genius seems beyond any doubt. That his work, cracking German codes at Bletchley Park was significant in bringing World War Two to a conclusion is also clear. Common Sense will leave it to military historians to debate just how significant cracking the enigma code was. No doubt there are few people today who defend the laws prohibiting gay sex under which Turing was prosecuted in 1952. He opted for treatment with female hormones – a form of chemical castration – instead of prison. He began to grow breasts. He then ate an apple laced with cyanide, in a probable suicide, though some in his family have always maintained this was an accident. Turing’s work led to the development of modern computers, and it has long been rumored (though denied by Steve Wozniak) that the name and logo of Apple Inc. is an homage to Turing and his sad death aged 41.

Attitudes have changed tremendously in a few generations. Younger people today are shocked that gay sex was ever illegal or that gay couples ever moved to another town and to live with their partners, to whom they referred as a brother or sister. It is obvious to most younger people in western countries that gay marriage will soon be recognized, in those jurisdictions where it is not already. These are the grandchildren on the generation that saw Turing – and countless others, of course – arrested, convicted and sentenced. 

There have been countless moments that have defined this enormous shift in attitudes. In the artistic community people praise the bravery of ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, though, frankly, it would have been braver if he had been a steel-worker or a longshoreman. By the 1970s and 80s people were rarely prosecuted for gay sex even in those states where it remained illegal, but references to gay people were still the punch lines for jokes in a way that young people today would find baffling. 

To this observer a defining moment came reading the Daily Mail. The Mail, though published in Britain since 1896, has latterly become an internet phenomenon. It is one of the most widely read news sites in the US. It is a paper which knows its audience extremely well, and it is most expressly a family audience. Traditionally, while The Times was read by people who run Britain, the Mail was read by the wives of the people who run Britain. Its readers are older, stay-at-home moms who are the backbone of churches and parent groups. It has become an American hit because it understands this demographic extremely well, and produces material they like to read. There is a massive readership for a paper like this in America, and the Mail has found it. It is, of course, a deeply conservative audience.

So, when the Mail ran a feature in its real estate section on the beautiful country house of the noted historian, David Starkey, this raised some eyebrows. Now, Starkey is a well-known writer and broadcaster who mixes conservative and libertarian viewpoints. He is not a bomb-throwing radical, but he is gay. For the Mail – of all papers – to write a feature not on his admiration for the institution of monarchy, but on the home he has made with his long-term partner is breathtaking. Attitudes have changed, and they have not finished changing.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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