Magnus Hirschfeld | Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld | 14475
Magnus Hirschfeld was born on 14 May 1868. He was a German physician and sexologist who founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft which many regard as the very first gay rights campaigning organisation.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Peter Tatchell notes that
At medical school, he was traumatised by a lecture on ‘sexual degeneracy’, where a gay man – who had been incarcerated in an asylum for 30 years because of his homosexuality – was paraded naked before the students like a laboratory animal. Hirschfeld was the only student revolted by such mistreatment. All the others, even his best friend, viewed it as normal and justified.
Further trauma ensued when, soon after setting up himself as a doctor in Berlin in 1893, he was waylaid outside his apartment at night by a soldier who was deeply disturbed by his homosexuality. Hirschfeld resisted the soldier’s pleading for a consultation there and then, telling him to come to his surgery the next day. Overnight, however, the soldier committed suicide.
He moved to Berlin in 1896, when he published his first pamphlet, and founded the IFS in 1897. His nickname on the Berlin gay scene was Aunt Magnesia.
The group was formed to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175 of 1871 which had criminalized homosexuality. They argued that the law encouraged blackmail. Hirschfeld believed that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. The group’s petition to overturn Paragraph 175 managed to gather over 5,000 signatures from prominent Germans. Unfortunately success in the German Parliament did not come for many years. There were attempts to change the law in 1921, 1925 and 1929 but all failed.
His views were that homosexuals were like disabled people and that male homosexuals were by nature effeminate. These views eventually caused the organisation to split, and some members left to form the ‘Bund für männliche Kultur’ (Union for Male Culture) which argued that male-male love is a simple aspect of virile manliness rather than a special condition. The Bund did not survive long.
Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld notes that:
Between 1899 and 1923 Hirschfeld and his staff compiled a 20,000-page anthology. The “Yearbooks For Sexual Intermediaries” were intended to show that between the “full man” and the “full woman” there are an infinite number of gradations and combinations. Hermaphrodites, transvestites, homosexuals are the necessary natural link between the two poles of man and woman. The homosexual is a kind of “third sex”.
On 6 July 1919 he opened his new Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research), which housed his archives and library on sexuality, provided educational services and medical consultations – and included a Museum of Sex.
The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft | Archive for Sexology | 14476
In 1921 Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. He co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different From the Others”), a film which made the case for decriminalisation, which starred Conrad Veidt as one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema. The authorities banned the film in 1920 but by then many gay and lesbian people had seen the film and described the experience as “liberating”.
The Nazis attacked Hirschfeld’s Institute on 6 May 1933, and burned many of its books as well as its archives.
Hirschfeld died on 14 May 1935 in Nice, France.
Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld
Huffington Post: Magnus Hirschfeld advanced LGBT rights in the 1800s – his pioneering work mustn’t be forgotten