Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (28 August 1825 – 14 July 1895) was a German writer who is seen today as the pioneer of the modern gay rights movement.
Campaigner for sexual reform
In 1862, Ulrichs took the momentous step of telling his family and friends that he was, in his own words, an Urning, and began writing under the pseudonym of “Numa Numantius”. His first five essays, collected asForschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (Studies on the Riddle of Male-Male Love), explained such love as natural and biological, summed up with the Latin phrase anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa(a female psyche confined in a male body). In these essays, Ulrichs coined various terms to describe different sexual orientations/gender identities, including “Urning” for a male who desires men (English “Uranian“), and “Dioning” for a male who is attracted to women. These terms are in reference to a section of Plato‘s Symposium in which two kinds of love are discussed, symbolised by an Aphrodite who is born from a male (Uranos), and an Aphrodite who is born from a female (Dione). Ulrichs also coined words for the female counterparts (“Urningin” and “Dioningin”), and for bisexuals and intersexual persons.
He soon began publishing under his real name (possibly the first public “coming out” in modern society) and wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences. On August 29, 1867, 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. Two years later, in 1869, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word “homosexual”, and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation (as we would now say) began to be widely discussed.
In the 1860s, Ulrichs moved around Germany, always writing and publishing, and always in trouble with the law — though always for his words rather than for sexual offences. In 1864, his books were confiscated and banned by police in Saxony. Later the same thing happened in Berlin, and his works were banned throughout Prussia. Some of these papers were found in the Prussian state archives and were published in 2004. Already several of Ulrichs’s more important works are back in print, both in German and in translation.