June is LGBT Pride Month. It is also the month in which ACM awards the A.M. Turing prize to special individuals who have made contributions of fundamental importance to computing.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that Alan Turing, for whom the award is named, was gay and was the victim of homophobia and fascist laws of his time (Turing lived in England).

For those who are unfamiliar, Alan Turing is perhaps the most important contributor to modern computation theory. He made many fundamental discoveries: he described, fundamentally, what types questions can be asked of computers; he presented a system of classifications related to what sort of components are actually needed in a computer to compute; he showed us the truly amazing essence of what makes computation unique by describing something called the halting problem.

Turing was not just a computer scientist though; he was a mathematician. He was critical in breaking German codes during World War II, and without his contribution to the war it is quite possible that it would not have been won.

Turing was also gay. After the war, he was prosecuted for being gay, which was illegal in Britain at the time. He was subjected to chemical castration as punishment for his homosexuality and subsequently committed suicide. It is incredibly ironic that a person whose work was critical to preventing world dominance of German fascism was himself a victim of what was arguably a fascist law and sentiment in the home country that he helped defend.

Alan Turing’s contributions to our modern society are immeasurable. Not only did he help defend the free world, but he was a founding member of a field that has radically transformed the way that we work, think, and live. Anyone who uses the internet or a computer for any purpose whatsoever owes him a great debt of gratitude.

Everyone should take the time this month to remember Turing, not only for the lessons that he taught us about computers and computational theory, but also about civil rights and the role and contributions that people who are different from ourselves can play in our society.