Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (August 28, 1825 - July 14, 1895) was a German lawyer, jurist, journalist and writer who pioneered sexology and the gay rights movement. He is believed to be the first person to publicly come out.[1]

Early life and career[]

Ulrichs was born in the East Frisian city of Aurich, which at the time was in the Kingdom of Hanover.[2] His father was a Lutheran pastor.[3] Ulrichs recalled that as a child, he felt different from other boys and was attracted by the bright colors of military uniforms and women's clothing.[4] In 1839, at the age of 14, he experienced his first sexual encounter with his riding instructor. He graduated in law and theology from Göttingen University in 1846.[2]

He secured prestigious positions in the Hanoverian Civil Service, but rumors about his same-sex relationships and laws against public indecency led him to resign his post as an assistant judge in 1854.[1] He became a journalist for Allgemeine Zeitung, a pan-German newspaper published in Bavaria.[1]


As Urnings, we should and must present ourselves without a mask. Only then will we conquer ground to stand on in human society; otherwise, never.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs[2]

Ulrichs began with the assumption that virtually all homosexuals shared his delicate features, which he himself described as feminine, as well as his boyhood interest in girls' pastimes and their colorful clothing, which contrasted vividly with the men's clothing of his era.[2][4] His first awareness of homosexual interests came at age 15, followed by a full recognition of his orientation at 21. His contacts with his contemporaries soon convinced him, however, that beyond effeminate homosexuals of his own stripe there were fully masculine ones as well as butch and femme lesbians, and he eventually came to recognize bisexuality as a valid sexual category.[2] Despite his acknowledgment of a panoply of sexual orientations and types, Ulrichs maintained his "third sex" theory of homosexuality, according to which gay men are endowed at birth with a female psyche, and lesbians are endowed with a male one.[2]

In the years before the invention of the word "homosexualität", Ulrichs’s pamphlets provided readers with a morally neutral vocabulary to describe themselves. He coined the words "urnings" to refer to people we now call gay men, "urinden" to refer to people we now call lesbians, "dionings" for people we now call heterosexuals, and "uranodionism" for what is today called bisexuality.[4][2] Those terms were inspired by his study of the classics, in particular the story of Uranus, the god of the heavens, who was portrayed as both father and mother to the goddess Aphrodite in Plato’s "Symposium".[1]

On 29 August, 1867 Ulrichs, became the first homosexual to speak out publicly in defense of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws.[2] The audience allegedly shouted for Ulrichs to stop and that he should be crucified.[1] After that, he began publishing his books under his own name. In 1868, the Austrian writer Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the word "homosexual" in a letter to Ulrichs, and from the 1870s onward the subject of sexual orientation began to be widely discussed.[5]


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.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

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 the 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 repeatedly referenced Ulrichs in "The Homosexuality of Men and Women" (1914).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Overlooked No More: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneering Gay Activist" by Stack, Liam on <>. Published July 1 2020 by New York Times. (no backup information provided)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich" on <>(no backup information provided)
  3. A Special Illumination: Authority, Inspiration and Heresy in Gay Spirituality by McCleary, Rollan. Published 28 July 2017. ISBN 9781315475677.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality" by LeVay, Simon on <>. Published 1996 by The Washington Post. (no backup information provided)
  5. "150 years ago, the word ‘homosexual’ was coined in a secret correspondence" by Tang, GVGK on <>. Published May 7 2018 by Medium. (no backup information provided)
  6. "Berlin names street after gay rights pioneer" on <>. Published December 17 2013. (Archived on 2014-07-01)