The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, WhK) was founded in Berlin on the 14th or 15 May 1897, to campaign for social recognition of gay, bisexual and transgender men and women, and against their legal persecution. It was the first such organization in history.
The WhK was founded on 15 May 1897 (four days before Oscar Wilde's release from prison) by Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish-German physician, sexologist and outspoken advocate for gender and sexual minorities. Original members of the WhK included physician Magnus Hirschfeld, publisher Max Spohr, lawyer Eduard Oberg and writer Franz Joseph von Bülow. Adolf Brand, Benedict Friedländer, and Kurt Hiller also joined the organisation. A split happened in 1903. In 1929, Hiller took over as chairman of the group from Hirschfeld. At its peak, the WhK had about 500 members, and branches in approximately 25 cities in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
The Committee was based in the Institute for Sexual Sciences in Berlin, until 1933 when it was destroyed by the Nazis, from which it took a great deal of scientific theories on human sexuality - such as the idea of a third sex between a man and a woman. The initial focus of the Committee was to repeal Paragraph 175, an anti-gay piece of legislation of the Imperial Penal Code, which criminalized "coitus-like" acts between males, and the goal of this categorization of human sexuality was to demonstrate the innateness of homosexuality and thus make the criminal law against male-male gay sex in Germany at the time inapplicable.
The Committee also assisted defendants in criminal trials, conducted public lectures, and gathered signatures on a petition for the repeal of the law. Signatories included Albert Einstein, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Leo Tolstoy. Petitions were submitted to parliament, in 1898, 1922 and 1925, but failed to gain the support of the parliament, and the law continued to criminalise all male-male sexual acts until 1969 and wasn't entirely removed in West Germany until four years after East and West Germany became one country, in 1994.
Although it never had more than 500 members, it is considered an important milestone in the homosexual emancipation movement.
It produced the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (Yearbook for Intermediate Sexual Types). This, as well as reporting the Committee's activities, carried articles of scientific, polemical and literary natures. It was published regularly from 1899 to 1923 (sometimes even quarterly) and more sporadically until 1933.
This publication was the world's first scientific journal dealing with sexual variants. It was published until 1923. The studies published by the Yearbook range from articles about homosexuality among "primitive" people to literary analyses and case studies.
On October 1949, Hans Giese joined with Hermann Weber (1882–1955), head of the Frankfurt local group from 1921 to 1933, to re-establish the group in Kronberg. Kurt Hiller worked with them briefly, but stopped due to personal differences after a few months. The group was dissolved in late 1949 or early 1950 and instead formed the Committee for Reform of the Sexual Criminal Laws (Gesellschaft für Reform des Sexualstrafrechts e. V.), which existed until 1960.
The new WhK
In 1998, a new group was formed with the same name. Growing out of a group to support politician Volker Beck in that year's election, it is similar in name and general subject matter only, and takes more radical positions than the conservative LSVD. In 2001, its magazine Gigi was given a special award by the German Association of Lesbian and Gay Journalists.
- John Lauritsen; David Thorstad (1974), The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864–1935), New York: Times Change Press, ISBN 0-87810-027-X. Revised edition published 1995, ISBN 0-87810-041-5.
- "Hirschfeld, Magnus (1868-1935)". glbtq, an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer culture. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller (2001), Mann für Mann. Ein biographisches Lexikon, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch-Verlag, 2001, ISBN 3-518-39766-4, ISBN 3-928983-65-2. Entries for Hans Giese p. 278 , and Kurt Hiller p. 357: Citation.
- Jürgen Müller, Review of: Andreas Pretzel (Ed.): NS-Opfer unter Vorbehalt. - Homosexuelle Männer in Berlin nach 1945, LIT-Verlag, Münster 2002
- Online exhibition of the Magnus Hirschfeld Society: Kurt Hiller
- whk - wissenschaftlich-humanitäres komitee
- The history of the new WHK (german)