Robert Hannigan, the director of GCHQ, has apologised for the agency’s historic prejudice against gay people and the ‘horrifying’ treatment of Alan Turing.
Hannigan said archaic attitudes stifled the careers of many brilliant minds. Right up until the 1990s, gay people were banned from joining the organisation, a decision that caused long-lasting psychological damage to those that found themselves outed, interrogated and ostracised over their sexuality. Hannigan, who made the comments at a conference hosted by Stonewall, said he was urged to apologise by a former spy named ‘Ian’, who was forced out of the service on suspicion of being gay in the 1960s.
Hannigan said: ‘I am happy to do so today and to say how sorry I am that he and so many others were treated in this way, right up until the 1990s, when the policy was rightly changed. The fact that it was common practice for decades reflected the intolerance of the times and the pressures of the cold war, but it does not make it any less wrong and we should apologise for it. Their suffering was our loss and it was the nation’s loss too because we cannot know what Ian and others who were dismissed would have gone on to do and achieve. We did not learn our lesson from Turing.’
Hannigan added that GCHQ now relies on those who ‘dare to think differently and be different’ and that the agency supported Stonewall in ‘defending and promoting tolerance and acceptance without exception’.