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Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (July 28, 1825-July 14, 1895): The first Gay Activist
Post by Deb SMith

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation conducted a 2018 survey and found the following:

  • *46 percent of LBGTQ workers say they are closeted at work.
  • *53 percent of LBGTQ workers report hearing jokes about lesbian or gay people once in a while.
  • * The top two reasons LBGTQ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LBGTQ people to a supervisor or human resources:
  • They don’t think anything will be done about it.
  • They don’t want to hurt their relationships with co-workers.

Where did gay rights begin? Who was the first person to ‘come out’? How was this person treated?

In 1862, German lawyer and author Karl Heinrich Ulrichs came out to his family. This was 158 years ago.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs






Ulrichs was the first homosexual to speak publicly in defense of homosexuality. In 1867, he was given permission to speak to the Congress of German Jurists which consisted of 500 judges and lawyers. He was asking them to consider repealing the anti-homosexual laws. He was shouted down before he could make it clear what he was talking about. Ulrichs tried to explain that there was a persecution of an innocent class of persons who in Germany is outnumbered in the thousands, a class of persons to which many of the greatest and noblest intellects of our and other nations have belonged…exposed to an underserved legal persecution for no other reason than that mysteriously disposing creating nature has planted in the, a sexual nature that is the opposite of that which is in general usual. (lbgtqnation) Those present didn’t want to give him any chance to speak. As soon as he mentioned “sexual nature,” the Chairman asked him to continue in Latin so as not to offend delicate and less educated ears in attendance.

Ulrichs speaking before the Congress of German Jurists (Frederick Bennett Green, 1978)








Have you ever tried to speak out about something important to you and no one would listen? How did it make you feel?

In 1868, he stopped writing under a pseudonym (using a different name than his own). He wrote a series of pamphlets in which he was the first to formulate a scientific theory of homosexuality. Ulrichs believed there was a third gender. His beliefs included the following:

*Men attracted to other men had been born with a ‘woman’s spirit.’

*Women attracted to other women had a ‘male spirit.’

*Anyone attracted to both men and women had some of both.

Men and women were born this way and the state should not view their acts as criminal and they should not be punished.

Ulrichs goal was to free people like himself from the judgement of homosexual acts as being unnatural. He invented a new term to describe the nature of the individual, and not the acts performed. The terms he identified were:

*Urning for men attracted to other men.

*Urningin for women attracted to other women.

*Uranodioning for those attracted to men and women.

At one point, his pamphlets were taken by the police for degrading marriage and the family. The judge found him innocent and returned the pamphlets.

In 1880, Ulrichs published the world’s first gay periodical. He planned for several more, but there just weren’t enough subscribers to financially support this project. Following this, he moved to Italy and lived in poverty. The Marquis Niccolo Persichetti did become his friend and helped support him toward the end of his life. Ulrichs died of a kidney ailment on July 14, 1895.

Even though his scientific theory is not well regarded today, his openness and activism inspired those that followed. He inspired Magnus Hirschfeld to establish the Scientific Humanitarian

Committee (1897), the world’s first gay rights organization. The main goal was to fight for the abolishment of Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which punished sexual contact between men. This law was not repealed.

In 2017, a monument was installed to honor the first homosexual emancipation movement. It is along the banks of the Spree River in Berlin, Germany. This features Karl Ulrichs, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Anita Augspurg (lesbian activist). It features a Calla lily (one for each color in the rainbow flag). The Calla lily was chosen because it has male and female blooms in one plant.







Unfortunately, the Berlin monument has been defaced several times.











In 2017 Berlin, there were over 800 homophobic acts. The rise in homophobia has been blamed on far-right groups. In January 2019, the monument to homosexual victims of the Holocaust, located in Berlin, was defaced with black spray paint.

If you could write a letter to the person(s) that vandalized one of these monuments, what would you say? How would you convince them that what they did was wrong?


Check out Making Gay History: The Podcast:

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself. -Harvey Fierstein

Most of us remember the “Red Scare” of the 1950’s from history class. This was fear of Communists taking over the US and was led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Many people were wrongfully attacked and hurt.

But have you heard of the Lavender Scare? I know I didn’t until recently. This was a purge of homosexuals during the same time period as the Red Scare. There was a fear that gay people were a threat to national security and that they were in all levels of the government and needed to be removed.

Homosexuals must not be handling top-secret material. The pervert is easy prey to the blackmailer. -Joseph McCarthy

Following WWII, gays started to gravitate to urban areas and create their own communities. During the late 1940’s, the general public became aware of homosexuality thru Alfred Kinsey’s book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, published in 1948. In this book, Kinsey stated that same-sex experiences were relatively common. The public did not see this as acceptable.

The “Sex Perversion Elimination Program,” was started in 1947 by the US Park Police. This was to target gay men for arrest. A year later, Congress passed an act “for the treatment of sexual psychopaths” in Washington DC. This labeled homosexuals as mentally ill. Homosexuals were viewed as a lurking threat. This was at the same time that the US was facing another lurking threat: Communism.

McCarthy linked Communism and homosexuality. He felt that both Communists and homosexuals had “peculiar mental twists.” A week after McCarthy gave a speech, Deputy Undersecretary John Peurifoy testified that the State Department ousted 91 homosexual employees as security risks. It should be noted that homosexuals were being uncovered much quicker than Communists.

Senators Kenneth Wherry (pictured at left) and J. Lister Hill conducted the first congressional investigation into homosexuality in the federal workforce. (US Senate Historical Office)









There was a second, larger investigation known as the Hoey Committee Investigation, named after its chairman, Senator Clyde Hoey.

Senators Herbert O’Connor, Clyde Hoey, and Margaret Chase Smith in 1949, the year before all three served on the committee conducting a comprehensive investigation into the alleged employment of gay people by the federal government. (US Senate Historical Office)











The Hoey Committee gathered information from the medical community, federal agencies, law enforcement, and judicial authority. The committee held a five-day executive hearing, closed to the public. No gay men or lesbians spoke. The committee first contacted numerous federal agencies. They sent a questionnaire to all branches of the military plus 53 civilian departments and agencies, small and large. The committee would then interview agency officials. The response from Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer was typical:

“The privilege of working for the United States Government should not be extended to persons of dubious moral character, such as homosexuals or sex perverts. The confidence of our citizenry in their Government would be severely taxed if we looked with tolerance upon the employment of such persons.” (July 24, 1950)

There were a few responses supporting homosexuals in the work place. Howard Colvin, acting director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service:

“Since it is possible, according to our understanding of medical and psychiatric opinion on the subject, for a homosexual to lead a normal, well-adjusted life, we do not consider that such a person necessarily constitutes a bad security risk. We believe that each such case would have to be decided on its own merits.” (July 31, 1950)

The significance of the 1950 congressional investigations and the Hoey committee’s final report was to lay the groundwork for President Dwight D. Eisnhower’s 1953 Executive Order #10450, “Security Requirements for Government Employment.” This order effectively banned gay men and lesbians from all jobs in the US government. The Lavender Scare was not as widely known as the Red Scare. Those that were fired for homosexuality did not want anyone to know why they were fired. This entire period was filled with tragedy; some could no longer care for their parents due to the loss of employment. After being ‘outed,’ some committed suicide.

Among the tragedy, some federal workers took action. In 1957, the Army Map Service fired astronomer Franklin Kameny. Kameny had been arrest in California a year earlier for a consensual contact with another man. He appealed his dismissal all the way to the Supreme Court. The appeal failed in 1961. This caused Kameny to co-found the Mattachine Society of Washington DC. This organization battled anti-gay discrimination, especially the federal government’s discrimination policies.

1965 Washington DC protest against job discrimination. (CBS News)










In 1975, the Civil Service Commission announced that gay people could no longer be barred or fired from federal employment because of their sexuality. In 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order #12968, which stated: “The United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information.” In 2014, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order #13672. This extended protection against discrimination in hiring and employment to include gender identity.

As you can see, the LBGTQ community has fought long and hard for equality, and the fight continues. How can you help? Be kind to everyone. Be an Upstander and defend those that are being discriminated against. Wear a safety pin (by wearing a safety pin, you show people that you believe in equality for the LBGTQ community). Identify yourself with pronouns. Example: Hi! I am she/her Deb Smith.

For an extension activity:

Write a poem of acceptance for the LBGTQ community or create an art piece.

This is a trailer for the movie, The Lavender Scare:

Check out Making Gay History: The Podcast:





This world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another. -Ellen Page

Strength in Community: A Personal Responsum on the Meaning of Pride and the LGBTQIA+ Movement

When sitting down to write a piece about what the LGBT Rights Movement means to me, I simply didn’t know where to begin. My perspective as a feminine queer woman has been heavily influenced by the LGBTQIA+ movement overall, so parsing apart my own thoughts from the rhetoric of a social movement presented a challenge for me. Growing up as a queer girl in a small town, I was immensely privileged, with a loving family and a close friend network, though I internally faced many struggles of self-identity without the guidance from others like myself whom identified as LGBT. This feeling of isolation and stigma is a common perspective for many LGBTQIA+ youth who grow up without the ability to talk about their gender or sexuality explicitly. This can be an incredibly difficult challenge for people of all ages to face, and even more so for young people.

This is where, however, the importance and power of the Gay Rights Movement impacted my life. The Gay Rights Movement, which once started as a protest for gay rights at The Stonewall Inn and Bar in New York City (see below), now exists as a movement of Pride each June, which celebrates the newfound visibility and strength of the LGBTQIA+ community altogether (Willis). My own discovery and education concerning the Gay Rights Movement, (which is now known as Pride/ the LGBTQIA+ Rights Movement), led to a personal curiosity about others like me, sparking for the first time in my life a sense of belonging. Pride today highlights the importance behind community, reminding all LGBTQIA+ people, whether out, or silent, or questioning, or isolated, or visible, or without labels, or identifying, or dysphoric, or passing, that they are not alone.

Stonewall Riots 1969

The history of the LGBTQIA+ Rights Movement which includes that of protest, struggle, and loss, gives way to the struggle and perseverance of queer people historically, reminding us today of a community that remains strong despite challenges. The LGBTQIA+ community has expanded and become more visible, while the fight for equal and equitable rights for its members remains the same. This movement, which is symbolized by the Rainbow Pride Flag and enters public awareness annually in June, remains important for LGBTQIA+ peoples year-round.

Pride is important because it reminds those of us who are told to stay silent that we no longer need to be and that our experiences are important to speak about. It reminds us that despite feeling isolated, we are not alone. It signifies that our chosen families are real families too, and that we have a home within a community of others like ourselves. It reminds us that our self-expression and our unique perspectives are valid. And most importantly, pride reminds us that we are worthy. Love is love, which the world needs more of.

Lauren Frank, 2020



Sources Cited:

Willis, Amy. “Stonewall Riots: How a Police Raid on a Pub Led to the Rise of the LGBT Movement.” Metro,, 11 Dec. 2019,