Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born in Hanover in 1825. He studied law and theology at Gottingen University, followed by history at Berlin University. In 1862, he came out to his family as an “Urning,” a term he coined which refers to a person with “a female psyche in a male body” who is sexually attracted to men. This term, along with similar words for other sexual orientations, was featured in his published works containing his theories about homosexuality (though the term “homosexual” was not coined until 1869).
Ulrichs was one of the first people to publicly argue that homosexuality is natural, not a sin or disease. In 1867, he spoke out against the arrest of a man for homosexual behavior, and asked the German government to repeat its anti-gay laws. He was unsuccessful. But his efforts, and the work that he continued throughout his life, made him the gay community’s first known gay activist. Through his writings, he attempted to organize the homosexual community, spread information about a group that was largely in the shadows, and advocate for members of his community. He even attempted to launch a homosexual periodical, but surprisingly enough, did not get enough support in 1870 to publish past the first issue.
Due to his outspoken support for the gay community, Ulrichs spent a large portion of his life at odds with the law; his books and pamphlets were banned in several regions. He
bore his ostracism with dignity, saying “Until my dying day, I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the specter which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature…I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.” In 1879, he quietly retired himself to Italy, where he died in 1895. His gravestone says, “Exile and Pauper.”
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs stepped up and spoke out for himself and his community at a time when such an act was unheard of. He bravely blazed the trail for LGBT activists and researchers. For that reason, he seemed like the perfect choice for our first Birthday Spotlight post. In this monthly series, we are interested in shining a light on the contributions of LGBT+ folks to the LGBT+ community, as well as humanity at large. If there is someone that you would like to see featured, let us know in the comments or via email at bloomingout (at) wfhb.org!