Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: The World’s First Gay Activist

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of Karls Heinrich Ulrichs coming out to his family. He is said to be the first man to publicly come out, identify his romantic/sexual feelings for men, and launch the movement for LGBT rights. This German law student came out to his family in 1862 and they accepted his sexual orientation, despite their religious affiliations. He later became a journalist and then self-published 12 manifestos over two decades titled “Researches on the Riddle of love between Men.” He called gay men ‘Urnings’ and claimed that they were effeminate and attracted to heterosexual men. However, through his manifestos, we observe the development of Ulrichs’ beliefs as he realizes that gay men can be masculine in nature too. He sent his booklets to everyone, from politicians to doctors and lawyers, in order to raise awareness and promote equality for homosexuals. Ulrichs started the fight for the same rights that we fight for today: the rights for marriage, accommodation, the right to start a family, gain acceptance at work, and stop violence against gay men. In his book Araxes, he says, “The Urning, too, is a person. …his sexual orientation is a right established by nature. Legislators have no right to veto nature …no right to torture living creatures who are subject to those drives nature gave them.”

Read about the effects of Ulrichs’ movement after the jump…

By 1868, his work became well known across Russia and the United States, as even Karl Marx had heard of him. Ulrichs’ work directly inspired people like Karl Maria Kertbery, who coined the term ‘homosexual’ in 1869, and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who founded the first gay rights organization. This induced a domino effect because during World War II, Hirschfeld’s work then encouraged gay American soldiers, who were stationed in Germany at the time, to start an American gay rights group called the Mattachine Society. The Mattachines then officially kick-started the LGBT movement in the United States and were the first group of people to refer to themselves as ‘gay’. [GayStarNews]

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