Mom and I have been writing letters recently about films that are important, for one reason or another, to the LGBT community. This week’s post comes to us from Bryan Ball, resident of Buffalo, NY and current president of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. His entry is another of many guest blogs that we hope to feature this year. Thanks for reading!
My favorite moment of this year’s Academy Awards came late in the broadcast.
Throughout the night, social commentary had been upstaging staged jokes, beginning with host Neil Patrick Harris’ opening laugh at the Academy’s expense for largely snubbing the Martin Luther King Jr-centered film Selma. As film after film I hadn’t seen won awards, I began to notice the elephant in the room. On a night when the Oscars were concerning themselves with vital social issues like equal pay for women, the legacy of Dr. King, and the diseases of ALS and Alzheimer’s, I felt a shadow over the room that loomed large.
Casting that shadow was Alan Turing, a major figure in LGBT history, who’s biopic, The Imitation Game, had been nominated multiple times. As the night wore on, it seemed that Turing—a man who played a large part in the winning of the second World War and was later driven by the government he aided to suicide because he was gay—would never take the stage. A man who has been, up until very recently, victimized by and denied his rightful place in history would have his legacy passed over by Hollywood as well.
And then Graham Moore won the Oscar for writing the film’s screenplay. Finally a win. And what a win he made it. In what seemed a burst of destined, anxious inspiration, Moore immediately got the thanking of the film’s cast and crew out of the way, and began to talk about the fact that Turing had never been given so public and visible a platform that this Oscar win had given him. The gravity of where, how, and why he was standing where he was could clearly be seen on the screenwriter’s face.
Graham wasted no time. “When I was 16 years old I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it’s your turn and you are standing on the stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”
In those few words, the man who put words into Alan Turing’s mouth had Alan Turing put words into his. Turing never could have delivered his message, but it is one he should have received from his world. To consider Moore’s acceptance speech as only about LGBT people is short-sighted, just as it is to consider his speech non-inclusive of LGBT people because he never used the term LGBT. Turing represents a great many people—and not all (but many of them) LGBT.
Turning was born in the world at a time when his different nature, his weirdness, was shunned. He was a smart, intellectual, brooding, awkward, gay loner. He found great success in the world, for which he was never fully acknowledged in his lifetime. And the world he was born into killed him. The very government he worked for to help end a war prosecuted him for being who he was, inflicted a form of torture on him, and drove him to kill himself.
While the genocide the Nazi government inflicted on the world compares to no other, the irony that lies in Turing working for a government to end a war with a government that was persecuting and murdering its citizens, only to be driven to death by his own government for being who he was, is undeniable.
Turning was certainly not the only one. For all the progress we have made in the world on civil rights, the Alan Turings of the world are still being born in far too many countries. Whether those young people find themselves in New York State, Uganda, or Russia, there are governments—and people—who do not understand or respect them, and deny them the dignity all people deserve to live their lives.
Moore knew this, and recognized he himself had been an Alan Turing—one who had been able to make it farther personally into the world than Turing ever could, one who’s life was able to be saved. He used his moment on the world stage to reach out to all the other Alan Turings out there who need to know they matter, need to know that what makes them unique is what deserves to be used in the world to end wars, and make art, and live lives doing anything and everything in between.
Anyone who is gay, transgender, lesbian, bisexual, smart, nerdy, a woman, African-American, Hispanic, red-haired, tall, short, interested in computers or numbers or science—anyone who has ever been considered as the other by a majority, and persecuted for that reason. These people, the people of the world Harvey Milk famously dubbed “the Us-es,” are everyone Turing represents. And they deserve to be treated with the dignity and legal equality that Turing himself was never afforded.
And in his few short words, directed at the young Alans of the world, Graham Moore could not have more directly or eloquently given Turing’s legacy to them.