Karl Heinrich Ulrichs – Pioneer of the modern gay rights movement – Tragedies & Triumphs – Celebrating the History Of The LGBTQ Community Through the Years – A virtual art exhibit

tragedies and triumphs

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
Pioneer of the modern gay rights movement
28 August 1825 – 14 July 1895

Ulrichs was born in the East Frisian village Westerfeld, which at the time was in the Kingdom of Hanover.

Ulrichs recalled that as a youngster he felt different from other boys and was attracted to the bright colors of military uniforms and women’s clothing.

 

Karl_Heinrich_Ulrichs

Ulrichs graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University in 1846.

From 1849 to 1857, Ulrichs worked as an official administrative lawyer for the district court of Hildesheim in the Kingdom of Hanover.

He was dismissed when his homosexuality became open knowledge.

In 1862, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, in his own words, an Urning, and began writing under the pseudonym of “Numa Numantius”.

His first five essays, collected as Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (Studies on the Riddle of Male-Male Love), explained such love as natural and biological, summed up with the Latin phrase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa (a female psyche confined in a male body).

In these essays, Ulrichs coined various terms to describe different sexual orientations, including Urning for a man who desires men (English “Uranian”), and Dioning for one who desires women.

These terms are in reference to a section of Plato’s Symposium in which two kinds of love are discussed, symbolised by an Aphrodite who is born from a male (Uranos), and an Aphrodite who is born from a female (Dione).

Ulrichs also coined words for the female counterparts (Urningin and Dioningin), and for bisexuals and intersexual persons.

1868_Gladius_furens._Das_Naturräthsel_der_Urningsliebe_und_der_Irrthum_als_Gesetzgeber._Eine_Provocation_an_den_deutschen_Juristentag_..._Von_Karl_Heinrich_Ulrichs-552x900

He soon began publishing under his real name (possibly the first public “coming out” in modern society) and wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences.

On 29 August 1867 Ulrichs became the first homosexual to speak out publicly in defence of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws. He was shouted down.

Two years later, in 1869, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word “homosexual”, and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation (as we would now say) began to be widely discussed.

In the 1860s, Ulrichs moved around Germany, always writing and publishing, and always in trouble with the law. In 1864, his books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony. Later the same thing happened in Berlin, and his works were banned throughout Prussia.

 

karl heinrich ulrichs

Ulrichs was a patriotic Hannoverian, and when Prussia annexed Hannover in 1866 he was briefly imprisoned for opposing Prussian rule. The next year he left Hannover for good and moved to Munich, where he addressed the Association of German Jurists on the need to reform German laws against homosexuality.

In 1879, Ulrichs published the twelfth and final book of his Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In poor health, and feeling he had done all he could in Germany, he went into self-imposed exile in Naples.

For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L’Aquila, where his health improved.

In 1879, Ulrichs published the twelfth and final book of his Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In poor health, and feeling he had done all he could in Germany, he went into self-imposed a

Forgotten for many years, Ulrichs later became something of a cult figure in Europe in the late 1980s. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen, Hanover, and Berlin.

His birthday is marked each year by a lively street party and poetry reading at Karl-Heinrich-Ulrichs-Platz in Munich. The city of L’Aquila has restored his grave and hosts the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery.

Later gay rights advocates were aware of their debt to Ulrichs. Magnus Hirschfeld thoroughly referenced Ulrichs in his The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914).

Volkmar Sigusch called Ulrichs the “first gay man in world history.”

exile in Naples.

For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L’Aquila, where his health improved.

“Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.”

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