Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born in Northern Germany in 1825. In 1847, he was in law school at the University of Berlin and in 1847, he took his law society entrance exams in Burgorf.

As a lawyer, he seemed restless, often moonlighting as a freelance writer. As a closet gay, he risked financial ruin in engaging in a relationship with  a soldier, and several other men. But by 1852, he was appointed a judge.

Homosexuality or pederasty as it was then mostly known, was condemned and criminalized under the law of most nations, including German law. In 1854, a colleague suspected Ulrichs of immoral behavior and threatened to reveal it all. Ulrichs was forced to resign his position quietly.

This gave him pause and in it, the young lawyer found his lifelong cause of justice.

In 1862, he began to write to his family members and tease them about his sexuality. He gave a name to the gay, uraniers; arbitrarily translated to uranians or urnings. He postulated that uranians were a third gender. Later, he suggested that by an accident at birth, gay men had a female soul trapped in a man's body.

Kark H. Ulrichs

A year later, he defied the criminal law and published a series of brochures (pamphlets) promoting the decriminalization of the uranian lifestyle, but he wisely did so under the pen name of Numa Numantius.

He wrote:

"The class Urnings is perhaps strong enough now to assert its right to equality and equal treatment....

"Fortified with the shield of the justice of their cause, they must bravely dare to come out of the previous reserve and isolation. Herewith, let the ice be broken."

The German authorities were outraged and quickly confiscated copies of the pamphlets. They were outlawed but Ulrichs, emboldened by "thank you" letters addressed to "Numa".

Now completely released from his duties as a lawyer, he published three new pamphlets as Numa Numantius. He proposed to be the liberator of the gay in Germany. he tried desperately to find support from the medical profession but mostly failed. In 1865, he formed a Urning union but he was not even able to convene a single meeting. He sent a copy of his writings to the Hungarian writer Karl Kurtzbeny who changed Ulrichs' terminology to something which sounded scientific: and thus the words homosexual and heterosexual were coined.

In 1867, Ulrichs was imprisoned. When he was released after five months, he moved to Würzburg and continued to write but now as Karl Ulrichs, his real name. He published Memnon: The Sexual Nature of Men-Loving Urnings, where he further developed his theories of homosexuality.

In 1869, a prominent German was convicted of the rape of a 5-year old boy, and a copy of Memnon found in his belongings. It was a severe blow to Ulrichs' cause. At the time, the German government was considering decriminalizing homosexuality but the trial ended that. Indeed homosexuality remained a crime in Germany until 1969.

In 1870,he tried to make a go of a gay magazine but it failed miserably. Buy he published another pamphlet, this one called Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Law in which he postulated:

"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."

Ulrichs continued to relocate frequently, first to Stuggart where he published the last of his pamphlets, this one refining his themes in the condemnation of pedophilia and gay rape.

Disillusioned with German politics, he moved to Italy where he took up a quiet career as local tutor in l'Aquila. He died on July 14, 1895.

But the spark he had ignited was not out, it was flickering and would soon be taken up by his friends Kurtsbeny, John Addington Symonds and especially Magnus Hirschfeld who republished Ulrich's works in a consolidated volume. Hirschfield was inspired to create the first ever gay rights organization, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
  • Henry, S., “Karl Heinrich Ulrichs”, in Gay & Lesbian Biography (London: St. James Press, 1997), pages 436-439