Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Judge Karl Heinrich Ulrichs publicly proclaimed his homosexual orientation and spoke in favor of legal and civil rights for gays, marking perhaps the first time anyone had called for gay rights publicly in modern Europe.

Summary of Event

Most of the German states and Austria had laws in 1867 against homosexuality, and the few that did not have these laws offered no formal recognition of gay rights. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a native of Hanover (which had no law against homosexuality), had been forced to resign his position as a civil servant and judge in 1854 after his sexuality became known to local authorities. He remained a member of the Congress of German Jurists, however, and hoped to use its podium to plead for legal changes. [kw]Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian Rights, Karl Heinrich (Aug. 29, 1867) [kw]Gay and Lesbian Rights, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for (Aug. 29, 1867) [kw]Lesbian Rights, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and (Aug. 29, 1867) [kw]Rights, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian (Aug. 29, 1867) Germany and early gay rights movement Political activism;early gay rights movement[gay rights movement] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Aug. 29, 1867: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian Rights[0040] [c]Literature;Aug. 29, 1867: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian Rights[0040] [c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 29, 1867: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian Rights[0040] [c]Health and medicine;Aug. 29, 1867: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Speaks Publicly for Gay and Lesbian Rights[0040] Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich

A contemporary illustration of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.

Ulrichs was permitted to speak at the plenary session of some five hundred members at the Sixth Congress of German Jurists in Munich on August 29, 1867, but was shouted down and not allowed to finish his speech on gay rights. The congress would not listen to his arguments. A short time later, Ulrichs published his speech in the sixth booklet of what eventually became twelve booklets: Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (1864-1879; The Riddle of “Man-Manly” Love, Riddle of “Man-Manly” Love, The (Ulrichs)[Riddle of Man Manly Love] 1994).

Although Ulrichs’s first five booklets were published under a pseudonym (Numa Numantius), his later booklets, which were published after his speech before the congress, contained his real name. Thus, his 1867 speech marked the first time that an out gay person publicly spoke for gay legal and civil rights. This was not the only first for Ulrichs, however. In his first five booklets of 1864-1865, he formulated the first scientific theory of homosexuality, arguing that a gay man has a male body and a female psyche (and that a lesbian woman has a female body and a male psyche).

Ulrichs’s courageous act in Munich, passed over in silence at the time, became a rallying point for later generations of gays and lesbians in Germany. In 1998, a square in Munich Munich, Germany was dedicated to Ulrichs and named Karl-Heinrich-Ulrichs-Platz; a plaque in the square contains the following words:

By publicly speaking up for the empire-wide legal freedom of same-sex relations at the Congress of German Jurists in 1867 in Munich he fundamentally contributed to the legal and civil equality of homosexuals.


Ulrichs’s actions had no direct effect on the various laws against homosexuality of his time, despite his continued efforts. Indeed, with the formation of the new German Empire in 1871, harsh Prussian law was extended to all of Germany. Ulrichs, however, was the inspiration for a new generation of activists who, under the leadership of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld Hirschfeld, Magnus (1868-1935) in Berlin, formed in 1897 the first organization for gay liberation, the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee). Scientific-Humanitarian Committee[Scientific Humanitarian Committee] Furthermore, in a new edition of Ulrichs’s writings in 1898, Hirschfeld called him “the first and noblest of those who have striven with courage and strength in this field to help truth and charity gain their rightful place.”

The theoretical writings of Ulrichs on homosexuality, in particular his third-sex theory, directly influenced the discussion of homosexuality by the doctors and psychiatrists of the nineteenth century, who quickly acted to assume control of what was called the “treatment” of homosexuals. The term “third sex” Third sex;as a term[term] has been a staple of the scientific and popular literature for more than one century, despite the literature’s essential refutation.

What makes Ulrichs so outstanding and memorable is not only his action in Munich and his other efforts for gay liberation but also his anticipating later civil rights movements, including the abolition of the death penalty, national and religious tolerance, and women’s rights. Also, Ulrichs coined the terms uranismus, Uranism, definition of derived from Urania, the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite; urning, Urning, definition of to describe gay men; and urninds, Urninds, definition of to describe lesbians. “Homosexual” was coined earlier by German journalist and translator Karl Maria Kertbeny (1824-1882) in 1869, in an anonymously published pamphlet, and was never used by Ulrichs.

Ulrichs believed that the nature of the urning was inborn, so that every individual must follow his or her own nature and should be judged accordingly. Love between men is a riddle of nature, Ulrichs believed, but he insisted that the riddle be solved by science and not “by blindly striking with the so-called sword of justice, which already all too often with regard to heretics, Jews, and witches has shown itself to be a sword of injustice.” Germany and early gay rights movement Political activism;early gay rights movement[gay rights movement]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kennedy, Hubert. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: Leben und Werk. 2d ed. Hamburg, Germany: MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Ulrichs: The Life and Works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement. Boston: Alyson, 1988. Revised edition (2002) available at http://home.pacbell.net/hubertk/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich. Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe. Edited by Hubert Kennedy. 4 vols. Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Riddle of “Man-Manly” Love: The Pioneering Work on Male Homosexuality. Translated by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash. 2 vols. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1994.

May 6, 1868: Kertbeny Coins the Terms “Homosexual” and “Heterosexual”

1869: Westphal Advocates Medical Treatment for Sexual Inversion

1896: Der Eigene Is Published as First Journal on Homosexuality

1896: Raffalovich Publishes Uranisme et Unisexualité

1897: Ellis Publishes Sexual Inversion

May 14, 1897: Hirschfeld Founds the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

1906: Friedlaender Breaks with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

1908: Carpenter Publishes The Intermediate Sex

December 10, 1924: Gerber Founds the Society for Human Rights

1933-1945: Nazis Persecute Homosexuals

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

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