Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

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Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (from Kennedy).jpg
Engraving of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, published in Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, vol. 1 (1899)
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

(1825-08-28)28 August 1825
Died14 July 1895(1895-07-14) (aged 69)
Known forCampaigning for gay rights

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (28 August 1825 – 14 July 1895) was a German lawyer, jurist, journalist, and writer who is regarded today as a pioneer of sexology[1] and the modern gay rights movement.

Early life[edit]

Ulrichs was born in the East Frisian village Westerfeld, incorporated today within Aurich, which at the time was in the Kingdom of Hanover.[2] Ulrichs recalled that as a youngster he felt different from other boys and was attracted by the bright colors of military uniforms and women's clothing.[3] In 1839, at the age of fourteen, he experienced his first sexual encounter with his riding instructor. He graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University in 1846.[2] From 1846 to 1848, he studied history at Berlin University, writing a dissertation in Latin on the Peace of Westphalia.

From 1849 to 1857 Ulrichs worked as an official administrative lawyer for the district court of Hildesheim in the Kingdom of Hanover. He was dismissed when his homosexuality became open knowledge.

Campaigner for sexual reform[edit]

Aphrodite Urania, the goddess from whose name Ulrichs derived the term Urning for homosexuals

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 as Forschungen 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, including Urning for a man who desires men (English "Uranian"), and Dioning for one who desires 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.[4]

The first and only issue of Uranus (January 1870), intended by Ulrichs as a regular periodical, bears its own title: Prometheus

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 29 August 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. In 1868, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual" in a letter to Ulrichs, and from the 1870s the subject of sexual orientation (as we would now say) began to be widely discussed.[5]

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.[2] 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.

Ulrichs was a patriotic Hannoverian, and when Prussia annexed Hannover in 1866 he was briefly imprisoned for opposing Prussian rule. The next year he left Hannover for good and moved to Munich, where he addressed the Association of German Jurists on the need to reform German laws against homosexuality. Later he lived in Würzburg and Stuttgart.

In 1879, Ulrichs published the twelfth and final book of his Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In poor health, and feeling he had done all he could in Germany, he went into self-imposed exile in Italy. For several years he travelled around the country before settling in L'Aquila, where his health improved.

He continued to write prolifically and publish his works (in German and Latin) at his own expense. In 1895, he received an honorary diploma from the University of Naples. Shortly afterwards he died in L'Aquila. His gravestone is marked (in Latin), "Exile and Pauper." "Pauper" may have been a bit of a romantic licence. Ulrichs lived in L'Aquila as the guest of a local landowner, Marquis Niccolò Persichetti, who gave the eulogy at his funeral. At the end of his eulogy, he said:

But with your loss, oh Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the fame of your works and your virtue will not likewise disappear... but rather, as long as intelligence, virtue, learning, insight, poetry and science are cultivated on this earth and survive the weakness of our bodies, as long as the noble prominence of genius and knowledge are rewarded, we and those who come after us will shed tears and scatter flowers on your venerated grave.

Late in life Ulrichs wrote:

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.


Forgotten for many years, Ulrichs later became something of a cult figure in Europe in the late 1980s. There are streets named for him in Munich, Bremen, Hanover, and Berlin.[6] His birthday is marked each year by a lively street party and poetry reading at Karl-Heinrich-Ulrichs-Platz in Munich. The city of L'Aquila has restored his grave and hosts the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery. Later gay rights advocates were aware of their debt to Ulrichs. Magnus Hirschfeld thoroughly referenced Ulrichs in his The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914). Volkmar Sigusch called Ulrichs the "first gay man in world history."[7]

In Ulrichs' memory, the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents a Karl Heinrich Ulrichs Award for distinguished contributions to the advancement of sexual equality.[8]

In an interview, Robert Beachy said "I think it is reasonable to describe [Ulrichs] as the first gay person to publicly out himself."[9]

Latin writer[edit]

During his stay in Italy, he devoted himself, between 1889 and 1895, to the international use of Latin with the publishing of the literary review Alaudae,[10] which was widely disseminated and made known many European Latin poets of his time. This review found a suite,[11] in Vox Urbis: de litteris et bonis artibus commentarius published twice monthly by the architect and engineer Aristide Leonori between 1898 and 1913.


Published in 1870, Ulrich's "Araxes: a Call to Free the Nature of the Urning from Penal Law" is remarkable for its similarity to the discourse of the modern gay rights movement:

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.

The Urning is also a citizen. He, too, has civil rights; and according to these rights, the state has certain duties to fulfill as well. The state does not have the right to act on whimsy or for the sheer love of persecution. The state is not authorized, as in the past, to treat Urnings as outside the pale of the law.

To be sure, legislators do have the right to make laws to contain certain expressions of the Uranian drive, just as lawmakers are empowered to legislate the behavior of all citizens. Accordingly, they may prohibit Urnings from:

(a) seduction of male minors;

(b) violation of civil rights (by force, threat, abuse of unconscious people, etc.);

(c) public indecency.

The prohibition of the expression of the sex drive, i.e., between consenting adults in private, lies outside the legal sphere. All grounds for legal prosecution are lacking in this case. Legislators are hindered from doing this by human rights and the principle of the constitutional state. The legislator is hindered by the laws of justice, which forbid applying a double standard. As long as the Urning respects guidelines (a), (b), and (c) above, the legislator may not prohibit him from following the rightful law of nature to which he is subject.

Within these guidelines Uranian love is in any instance no real crime. All indications of such are lacking. It is not even shameful, decadent or wicked, simply because it is the fulfillment of a law of nature. It is reckoned as one of the many imagined crimes that have defaced Europe's law books to the shame of civilized people. To criminalize it appears, therefore, to be an injustice officially perpetrated.

Just because Urnings are unfortunate enough to be a small minority, no damage can be done to their inalienable rights and to their civil rights. The law of liberty in the constitutional state also has to consider its minorities.

And no matter what the legislators have done in the past, the law of liberty knows of no limitation.

Legislators should give up hope at the beginning of uprooting the Uranian sexual drive at any time. Even the fiery pyres upon which they burned Urnings in earlier centuries could not accomplish this. Even to gag and tie them up was useless. The battle against nature is a hopeless one. Even the most powerful government, with all the means of coercion it can bring to bear, is too weak against nature. On the other hand, the government is capable of controlling the battle. The reasoning and consciousness of the Urning's own sense of morality offer the government wholehearted cooperation toward this goal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hans-Martin Lohmann: Geschichte der Sexualität – Vom Widerspruch her gedacht (Buchbesprechung: Volkmar Sigusch, Geschichte der Sexualwissenschaft, Campus, 2008), Frankfurter Rundschau Online.
  2. ^ a b c "Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  3. ^ LeVay, Simon (1996). "Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  4. ^ Licata, Salvatore; Petersen, Robert P (27 August 2013). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Routledge. pp. 106–107. ISBN 9781134735938. Archived from the original on 17 March 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  5. ^ "150 Years Ago, the Word "Homosexual" was Coined in a Secret Correspondence". GVGK Tang. 6 May 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  6. ^ "Berlin names street after gay rights pioneer". 17 December 2013. Archived from the original on 1 July 2014. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  7. ^ Volkmar Sigusch, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Der erste Schwule der Weltgeschichte, Männerschwarm 2000.
  8. ^ Newton, David E. (2009). Gay and Lesbian Rights: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-59884-306-4.
  9. ^ Stack, Liam (1 July 2020). "Overlooked No More: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneering Gay Activist". Archived from the original on 4 July 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  10. ^ Wielfried Stroh (ed.), Alaudæ. Eine lateinische Zeitschrift 1889–1895 herausgegeben von Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Nachdruck mit einer Einleitung von Wielfried Stroh, Hamburg, MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 2004.
  11. ^ Vox Urbis (1898–1913) quid sibi proposuerit, in : Melissa, 139 (2007) pp. 8–11.

Wilfried Stroh (ed.), Alaudæ. Eine lateinische Zeitschrift 1889–1895 herausgegeben von Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Nachdruck mit einer Einleitung von Wilfried Stroh, Hamburg, MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 2004.

Further reading[edit]

  • K. H. Ulrichs, Forschungen über das Rätsel der mannmännlichen Liebe (1898; repr. 1994)
  • Documents of the Homosexual Rights Movement in Germany 1836–1927 (1975)
  • H. Kennedy, Ulrichs The Life and Works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement (1988)
  • K. H. Ulrichs, "The Riddle of Man-Manly Love." Trans. Michael Lombardi-Nash (1994)
  • M. Hirschler, "De Carolo Henrico Ulrichs qui magis fecit quam ut revivisceret lingua Latina". In: Melissa. Folia perenni Latinitati dicata. Band 192, 2016, pp. 8–9.
  • D. O. Pretsell, The Correspondence of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, 1846-1894 (2020)

External links[edit]