1895-07-14

KARL-HEINRICH ULRICHS, the great German campaigner for Gay Rights, died (b: 1825); a visionary pioneer of modern Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender movement. Ulrichs was born in Aurich, then part of the Kingdom of Hanover, in northwestern Germany. His first same-sex experience was in 1839 at the age of fourteen, in the course of a brief affair with his riding instructor. 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 Hildensheim in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was dismissed in 1859 when his sexuality became apparent. In 1862, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, using his own term, an Urning, and began writing under the pseudonym of “Numa Numantius”. His first five essays, collected as Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (“Researches 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 orientation/gender identities, including “Urning” for a male who desires men (English “Uranian”), and “Dioning” for a male who is attracted to women. These terms are in reference to a section of Plato’s Symposium in which two kinds of love are discussed, symbolized 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, bisexuals and intersexuals. He soon began publishing under his real name (possibly the first public “coming out”) and wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences.

On August 29, 1867, Ulrichs became the first self-proclaimed Urning to speak out publicly in defense of same-sex sexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-same-sexual intimacy laws. He was shouted down.

Two years later, in 1869, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny cobbled together the word “homosexual” (oddly combining a Latin prefix with a Greek suffix), and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation (as we would now say) began to be discussed widely. 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 offenses. 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 were 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 license. 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 specter 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 a cult figure in Europe. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen and Hanover. His birthday (August 28th) 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 Hirshfeld thoroughly referenced Ulrichs in his The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914).

The International Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents an annual Karl Heinricch Ulrichs Award in Ulrichs’ memory. 1895, people…think about it. We all talk about the “modern LGBT movement” and we automatically think “Stonewall”…no. The most important thing stolen from a people is their history. If they steal your history they can tell you anything. Rethink. Revisit. Remember.