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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
World's First "Out" Gay Activist: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
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.