Tuesday, February 23, 2010

World's First "Out" Gay Activist: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs was born 28 August 1825, and remains the first known out-of-the-closet Gay activist.  To protect his family, in 1864 he used the pseudonym Numa Numantius but dropped it in 1868 when he came out. He set a new standard for everyone who followed by bringing a new, positive approach to bear on what he called the riddle of nature

On August 29, 1867, Ulrichs became the first recorded man to speak out publicly in defence of same-sex love when he pleaded his case at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging for the repeal of anti-gay laws. The 500-member Association of German Jurists in Munich, Germany did not take kindly to this single man acting all alone, but he confronted them all and did not back down. In the following excerpt, Ulrichs dramatically describes the occasion:

"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."

Of why he endured the battles he had in his life, he wrote:
"Before my eyes appeared the images of the persecuted and of those already damned who are yet unborn, and I behold the unhappy mothers beside their cradles rocking cursed, innocent children! Then I saw our judges and their blindfolded eyes. Finally I envisioned the gravedigger sliding the cover of my coffin over my cold face".

He was shouted down by the angry crowd, but that did not stop him.  Ulrichs later published the 12th and final book of his research, the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In this book, Ulrichs surveys literary, historical, physiological, and other data to prove his point that being gay is not a sin, but perfectly natural. He makes the theory that the strict line of differentiation between men and women has been overemphasized.  Ulrichs contended that male (as well as female) same-sex attraction results from a crossing of the male and female generative principles during the first crucial stages of fetal development. Thus, gay men are essentially "male" in body and masculinity, yet "female" in sexual desire...crucially the same yet also different from straight men. Thus, being gay is the work of nature.

In poor health, and feeling he had done all he could in Germany, he went into self-imposed exile in Italy. There it's reported that he found comfort and love with the locals, who were much more tolerant and open-minded.  For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L'Aquila, and his health improved.  Happy in his life and proud of who he was, he died July 14, 1895.


  1. Wow, talk about being ahead of his time.

    It was only recently that they've considered the validity of the "third son syndrome". [I think it was on 20/20 or 60 Minutes.]

    Oddly enough, it seems to hold true. I can't tell you how many gay men I know who are the third son in their families; I'm one of them.

  2. There's more about his life when he was in Italy, maybe for another time. This is one guy I truly would like to shake his hand and say "thanks" for having the balls to be yourself when doing so meant you were totally alone, no support anywhere.


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