One of the Liberate volunteers takes the opportunity to talk about one of their gay hero’s during LGBT history month;
Gay History Month is upon us and I thought it provided a great opportunity to provide an insight into a gay hero of mine: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. He has been described as a ‘Pioneering Gay Activist’ and was also a man ahead of his time.
Ulrichs was born in August, 1825 in Aurich in the former Kingdom of Hanover in north-western Germany. He was born into a well to do family that included several Lutheran pastors. He studied classics before beginning legal studies.
Same sex attraction was deeply taboo at that time. In fact the term ‘’homosexuality’ had not even been coined. He recognised as a child that he was different from boys of his age. He was drawn to his mother’s clothes and as an adolescent he noticed that drawings of male nudes in books used to excite and attract him. He had his first gay liaison at 14. By the age of twenty he acknowledged that he was sexually attracted to men.
He lived at a time when sexual contact between people of the same sex was looked on as a crime against nature. When he told his sister she reacted by telling him to pray to God to rid him of these unnatural feelings. But he had already worked out that love between people of the same sex was natural for some individuals and was therefore natural. It was revolutionary thinking.
He continued to expound his theories in the 1860’s and published articles and spoke on the subject. Indeed by 1867 rumours were rife about his same sex love affairs. He was threatened with arrest and prosecution. It cost him his legal career and had he fled his homeland. In speeches he advocated the repeal of sodomy laws that criminalised sex between men in his, and in surrounding countries. He argued that it was abhorrent that gay men faced persecution simply because nature had planted them in a sexual nature which was opposite to that which was usual.
He is considered to be the first person to publicly ‘come out’. He was instrumental in putting forward the concepts of ‘gay people’ as a distinct group of people and of sexual identity as innate human characteristics. This obviously drew criticism, but it also encouraged men to write to say that they felt as he did. One writer said ‘I cannot describe what a salvation it was for me.’ Another said ‘to learn that there are many other men who are sexually constituted the way I am and that my sexual feeling was not an aberration but rather a sexual orientation determined by nature.’
He invented his own words to describe sexual identity. An urning was a homosexual man. A dioning was a heterosexual man. Woman who were sexually attracted to women were urningins. The urano-dioning felt love for men and women (bisexual). A man who was normally heterosexual but went with men at times was called a uranimus. A man who was gay but entered into a conventional mixed sex marriage he called a virilisirt. He subdivided urnings into to type. A mannling was a masculine homosexual; a weibling was an effeminate homosexual and recognised that there were many stops between.
He worked tirelessly to convince people in authority including government, scientists and the medical profession to acknowledge his views. He also worked to decriminalise homosexual acts and continued to advocate that people were being vilified because of their natural disposition. He wrote pamphlets and gave numerous speeches to this end.
He continued to write into later life he 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 was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.
He died in July 1895. His achievements were overlooked for many years but became a cult figure in Europe in the late 1980s. His birthday is marked with a street party in Munich. He has also had a street and square named after him. The international Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents a Karl Heinrichs Ulrichs Award for distinguished contributions to the advancement of sexual equality.
What would Ulrichs make of the world today? He would surely be delighted that the theory which he advocated about homosexuality being an occurrence of nature was now widely accepted in enlightened societies. He would be sad that the view did not have universal acceptance, however, he would be sad that the Church had not accepted this and he would be involved in the movement for the Church to accept sexually equality. He would want to see the remaining bastion which forbids same sex marriage in the Church to be removed.
He would be sad that less enlightened world leaders did not accept what is common sense and continue, in spite of evidence to the contrary, to treat LGBTQ people with distain. He would be horrified that in some countries the death penalty still exists for men convicted of homosexual acts.
So, let’s raise a glass to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and thank him for his contribution to the LBGTQ cause. He would no doubt encourage us to continue to fight for acceptance and equality and advocate to the anti-gay element in society that they accept what is a phenomenon of nature.