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Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (1825 – 1895)
Related: sexology - gay rights
Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (1825 – 95), pioneer gay rights activist, was born in Westerfeld, in north-western Germany. He graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University in 1846. From 1846 to 1848, he studied history at Berlin University, writing a dissertation (in Latin) on the Peace of Westphalia.
From 1849 to 1857 Ulrichs worked as an official legal adviser for the district court of Hildesheim in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was dismissed in 1859 when his homosexuality became apparent.
In 1862, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, in his own word, a Uranian. He also wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences. This was the first public "coming out" and the first recorded example of gay rights activism.
The idea of gay and lesbian rights originated in Germany, which in the 19th century was the most socially and scientifically advanced country in the world. 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) was widely discussed.
Ulrichs invented a new word, Uranism, to describe male homosexual desire. ("Uranian" comes from the Greek uranos (heaven), and is a reference to Plato's theory of the two gods of love: Pandemian (vulgar) Eros, who governs heterosexual love, and Uranian (heavenly) Eros, who governs love between men.) He also invented words for lesbians (Urninds), bisexuals (Uranodionings), and transsexual (Zwitter).
In the 1860s, Ulrichs moved around Germany, always writing and publishing, and always in trouble with the law — though always for his words rather than for sexual offences. 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. Some of these papers have recently been found in the Prussian state archives and will be published in 2004. Already several of Ulrichs's more important works are back in print, both in German and in translation.
Ulrichs was a patriotic Hanoverian, and when Prussia annexed Hanover in 1866 he was briefly imprisoned for opposing Prussian rule. The next year he left Hanover for good and moved to Munich, where he addressed the Association of German Jurists on the need to reform German laws against homosexuality. Later he lived in Würzburg and Stuttgart.
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 Italy. For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L'Aquila, where his health improved.
He continued to write prolifically and publish his works (in German and Latin) at his own expense. In 1895, he received an honorary diploma from the University of Naples. Shortly after he died in L'Aquila. His grave stone is marked (in Latin), "Exile and Pauper." "Pauper" may have been bit of romantic licence. Ulrichs lived in L'Aquila as the guest of a local landowner, Marquis Niccolò Persichetti, who gave the eulogy at his funeral. At the end of his eulogy, he said:But with your loss, oh Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the fame of your works and your virtue will not likewise disappear... but rather, as long as intelligence, virtue, learning, insight, poetry and science are cultivated on this earth and survive the weakness of our bodies, as long as the noble prominence of genius and knowledge are rewarded, we and those who come after us will shed tears and scatter flowers on your venerated grave.
Late in life Ulrichs wrote: "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."
Forgotten for many years, Ulrichs is now becoming something of a cult figure in Europe. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen and Hanover. 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). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Heinrich_Ulrichs [Aug 2004]
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