Saturday, October 05, 2013

Repost: LGBT History Month: Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs*

*originally posted October 5, 2009

Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, born in 1825, is seen as the pioneer of the modern LGBT rights movement. Although, at the time he was seen as something less than, a sentiment most of us have known. But Ulrichs used who he was, what he felt, to live his life openly, and to defend those who could not; he used what he was and how he loved to publish essays on homosexuality, and worked against the political machine of the day to decriminalize homosexual acts.
He graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University, and studied history at Berlin University. After finishing his schooling, Ulrichs worked as an official legal adviser for the district court of Hildesheim, but was dismissed when his homosexuality became open knowledge.

In 1862, Ulrichs "came out" to his family and friends, and began writing under the pseudonym of "Numa Numantius". His first five essays, collected as Researches on the Riddle of Male-Male Love, explained homosexual love as natural and biological; in these essays, Ulrichs coined various terms to describe different sexual orientations/gender identities, including "Urning" for a male who desires men, and "Dioning" for a male who is attracted to women.

Soon after, he 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, over one hundred years before Stonewall, Karl-Heinrich 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. But he kept writing, and kept finding trouble with the law, though for his words, not his orientation. In 1864, his books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony; it happened later in Berlin, and his works were banned throughout Prussia.

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, travelling around the country before settling inL'Aquila, where he continued to write prolifically and publish his works at his own expense, and, in 1895, he received an honorary diploma from the University of Naples.

When he died in L'Aquila, his grave stone is marked "Exile and Pauper." Pauper may have been a bit extreme, as Ulrichs was the guest of landowner Marquis Niccolò Persichetti, who spoke at the 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."
Ulrichs, in his own words, as his life was drawing to a close, 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."
These days Ulrichs is quite the cult figure in Europe. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen and Hanover, and each year his birthday is marked by a 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.

Published in 1870, Ulrich's Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Lawis a precursor to the modern day LGBT rights movement:
The Urning, too, is a person. He, too, therefore, has inalienable rights. His sexual orientation is a right established by nature. Legislators have no right to veto nature; no right to persecute nature in the course of its work; no right to torture living creatures who are subject to those drives nature gave them.
The Urning is also a citizen. He, too, has civil rights; and according to these rights, the state has certain duties to fulfill as well. The state does not have the right to act on whimsy or for the sheer love of persecution. The state is not authorized, as in the past, to treat Urnings as outside the pale of the law.To be sure, legislators do have the right to make laws to contain certain expressions of the Uranian drive, just as lawmakers are empowered to legislate the behavior of all citizens.
To criminalize it appears, therefore, to be an injustice officially perpetrated.
Just because Urnings are unfortunate enough to be a small minority, no damage can be done to their inalienable rights and to their civil rights.
Even then it was a simple idea.

On This Day In LGBT History

October 5, 1513
 – Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered what he claimed was a colony of cross-dressing males in present day Panama. It was reported that he massacred them.

October 5, 1840 – John Addington Symonds, one of the earliest scholars of gay and lesbian issues is born. He assisted Havelock Ellis in the writing of“Sexual Inversion.”

October 5, 1987 – The city commission of Traverse City Michigan voted unanimously to repeal a law banning the sale of condoms in city limits.

October 5, 1990 – Dennis Barrie, director of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, was acquitted of obscenity charges after displaying a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit.

October 5, 1998 – The US Congress killed an amendment by Rep Frank Riggs (R-CA) which would have barred San Francisco from spending federal housing money to implement its domestic partner ordinance.

October 5, 1999 – African scholar Ali Mazrui criticized Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for targeting gay and lesbian citizens for harassment and arrest.

1 comment:

Raybeard said...

Goodness! What a MOST interesting post, which I must have missed it four years ago. I only very vaguely knew the name (or am I imagining it?) but reading the details now it is a most astonishing story.
Sad to think that a century and a half on, if he was still with us he'd be fighting the very same battles. But, with his shining example, we'll get there.
Thanks very much for posting.