29 August 1867, Odeon Theatre, Munich, Germany
This speech by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs is regarded as the first ever gay rights protest speech. It did not achieve any change but as Ulrichs later said:“Until my dying day I will look back with pride when on August 29, 1867, I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the specter of an age-old, wrathful hydra which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature.” For his courage and activism, Ulrichs has been called ‘The first gay man in world history’.
Here is the speech:
Two years ago Dr. Tewes, professor of law, who resides in Graz, and I, according to regular procedure, proposed a motion as members of the Association; and I wish to make a protest because it has been denied by our committee, namely because it was classified as 'unsuitable for deliberation' by the Association of Jurists and has been excluded from the agenda. I shall establish my protest materially and formally.
This proposal addresses the revision of the existing material penal law, especially and finally to repeal a specific unlawful paragraph in the penal code handed down to us from past centuries. It is directed to abolish this paragraph of the penal code which discriminates against an innocent class of people.
It is also a question of preparing to unify the laws of Germany which in these points unity does not exist. Bavaria and Austria both presently condemn prosecution, and their legislation stands diametrically opposed to the remainder of Germany.
Finally, and secondarily, it is also a matter of concern finally to choke the source of abundant suicides, especially those of the most shocking sort.
I believe that these are far more worthy, serious and important questions concerning the penal code and ones that the Association of German Jurists was rightfully and truly called upon to rule on.
Gentlemen, the matter also concerns a group of persons whose size numbers in the thousands in Germany alone. Many of the most eminent and noble persons in our nation and in foreign nations have belonged to this group...
(Apparent amazement and scorn; isolated shouting, "Adjourn!")
...this group of men which is discriminated against for no reason other than the process of an undeserved criminal prosecution...
(Tempestuous outcry, "Adjourn, adjourn!" The presiding privy councillor, von Wächter, wished to call for a vote to close the matter which was being loudly demanded. What do I say? "Under the circumstances I give up the floor and lay my call for justice down on the table of the House." But now outbursts as loud as the previous ones fence forth from the opposite side of the hall, "No, no, continue, continue!" After I began to continue, the words which follow were spoken with heightened emphasis,)
...a group of men which is discriminated against for no reason other than the process of an unjust criminal prosecution because creative nature has implanted in this group a sexual nature which is inconsistent with the common, vulgar one...
(Chaotic uproar and violent interruption. Uncommon excitement in the audience on the side that prevailingly calls for adjournment. The president says, "I request that the speaker continue reading his proposal in Latin!" But I lay my manuscript down on the desk of the president, and I left the speaker's box. To continue, the manuscript went as follows:)
...a puzzling nature which, in fact, an edifying text by Numa Numantius has recently attempted to clarify, and because you yourselves are involved in an error which can be excused, you look at the matter only superficially: what you consider real, that this true and puzzling nature is not considered natural at all, you resolved to consider it as against natureiii and that the only action you initiate is to draw the sword of justice against this puzzling nature, and driven to utter abuse, you slash the Gordian knot.
This abuse has similarities in yet other puzzling phenomena that have also been misunderstood, namely the witch hunts of earlier centuries.
The abuse under question has been plainly abolished from the present penal code book of Bavaria, just as the Code Napoléon earlier did, while Austria, even now in its outlined penal code placed before parliament, prefers similar abolition 'to provide a practical accountability of the results of scientific research,' as the Austrian minister of justice expressly stated on June 26 of this year.
Would it not truly be the most serious and commendable duty of the Association, gentlemen, if the witch hunts were as yet not abolished, to enter the lists against them?
Indeed, even if Bavaria and Austria had not already taken action?
And what is the function of the Association, I ask, if it be deprived of discussing the most serious matters?
Formally it appears to me that this committee is so constituted, that, without a resolution from the Association, by its own authority, is out of order when it attempts to restrain a proposal that rightly falls under the jurisdiction of the Association of Jurists.
Whereby, in my own name and in the name of my cosponsor, I hereby make a protest against the restraint of the proposal.
I would now like publicly to repeat this protest that was made, and, as I portrayed, was suppressed.
Likewise, I enter a protest against the Association and its suppression of this protest.
During my entire speech I distinguished between two groups in my audience:
(1) There were the unbiased who were not prepared for my speech (they were to my right), and who challenged me to continue;
(2) Those who called for adjournment were already familiar with the Tewes-Ulrichs Proposal. (They were in front of me and to my left.) Among those were Appellate Court Justice von Groß from Jena and Attorney General Schwarze from Dresden, who both had sat on the committee.
I was already harassed by isolated calls for adjournment on the 27th and 28th when I delivered technical speeches that apparently had nothing to do with the matter concerned.
I want to deal now with the meaning of this behavior toward me and of the calls for adjournment that put a close to my speech on the 29th.
These shouts were not calls for adjournment in the literal sense. It was, rather, as if the sounds were just a disguise of a call to: "Crucify, crucify!"
During and before the beginning of my speech on the 29th, those who called for adjournment were apparently only in the minority. I requested permission in writing from the president to speak before the full assembly and to enter a protest against the omission of a proposal from the agenda and to place it before the president. The president immediately gave expression to one of his wishes, "May the King of Bavaria soon enjoy marital bliss, because it is the ultimate happiness of men," then put it to a vote "whether
Mr. Ulrichs should be allowed to speak to these aims?" To this a few isolated voices called out, "No, no!" Meanwhile, a strong majority called, "Yes!"
At least the large assembly listened to me with an extraordinary attentiveness. Of all the speakers in both full assemblies on the 27th and on the 29th, none enjoyed a similar experience.
When I stepped from the speaker's stand, an indescribable excitement prevailed.
Moreover, there was evident confusion of what the circumstances involved and of what needed to be said, who was to speak, and what was to be decided. After a long pause, the president reached for a manuscript and said, "I will try to continue reading to verify the matter." Another pause. Then the president began to speak, his voice quaking, "The proposal refers to crimes of the flesh." (Did the manuscript say one word about that?) He then turned to me and said, "I would like the speaker to read the proposal according to the letter." I began, "The proposal is lawfully submitted to the committee. It has to be in the hands of the president. It is not in my possession. My personal copy was confiscated in April of this year when I was taken to Minden Castle. I insert it here as follows:
The Association of Jurists may wish to declare a pressing demand for legislative justice by submitting the existing German penal code concerning so-called sins of the flesh to an immediate revision in the following two matters:
(I) That innate love toward a person of the male sex be punishable only under the same provisions that concern love to persons of the female sex; that they remain guiltless as long as:
"no rights have been abused (by force or threat of force, by abuse of minors, unconscious persons, etc.)
"or there was no disturbance of the peace;"
(ii) That the present vague penal regulation concerning 'disturbing the peace because of sexual behavior' be replaced by one that would guarantee protection under the law."]
Now Schwarze from Dresden requested to speak and declared, ”I represent the decision of the committee. The proposal is, if you will, not acceptable; indeed! We decided to restrain it because as it stands it is inconsistent with the present laws.Secondly, because it offends our sense of morality. It would have excited the indignation of the Association even if it were read. Our faces would turn red with shame! Indeed, if we are supposed to be speaking in Latin, then I can be sure to say it is of a sexual nature."
When these gruff words were heard by the groups to my left they shouted bravo, and I expected nothing less than to be personally insulted. I was troubled with fears every second. I could no longer consider answering Schwarze when such a mood was shared by a large part of the Association. I just remained passive. I was certain that I would loudly protest, declare my withdrawal, and exit the hall at the slightest insult.
Following Schwarze, an elderly gentleman with whom I was not acquainted spoke to thank the committee "in the name of the Association," for restraining the proposal in the interest of morality.
(Very loud shouting, although not all had joined in. See below.)
Ulrichs published his account of the event in a small book he entitled “Gladius Furens” (Raging Sword), which he published in 1868. The attached English translation of Ulrichs’ speech was translated and published by Michael Lombardi-Nash in: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, The Riddle of “Man-Manly” Love: The Pioneering Work on Male Homosexuality Volume I, trans. into English by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1994) pp. 263-265.