Today, as my birth state celebrates the legalization of same-sex marriage, I think about the people who helped make this all possible in the first place.
When many of us think about the origins of the gay rights movement, we think of the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969. And, for the most part, this is correct. This is the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
What many of us aren't aware of is that it's actually the second wave. There was an original gay rights movement in the 1860s. Yes, you read that right: 1860s.
The origins of the first wave of the gay rights movement go back to Karl Ulrichs, a German sexologist, and Magnus Hirschfeld, also a German sexologist, in the 1860s. Both were gay, and they proposed the idea homosexuality represented something of a "third" (or even "fourth", in the case of lesbians) sex. For Ulrichs, they were "urnings" (gay men) and a host of other names, using the umbrella term "Uranians". Both argued for the genetic origin of homosexuality, as did Richard von Krafft-Ebing (who was heterosexual). All of them, like Ellis and Symonds later, fought to decriminalize homosexuality, reasoning that if homosexuality was in-born and not a "sin", it should not be punished by the law. In 1886, Krafft-Ebing wrote
Certain it is that so far as sexual crimes are concerned erroneous ideas prevail, unjust decisions are given, and the law as well as public opinion are on first view prejudiced against the offender.In the 1890s, British sexologists such as John Addington Symonds (who was gay himself) and Havelock Ellis (who was not) simply sought to decriminalize homosexuality. Ellis wrote, in 1897, that
It may further be pointed out that legislation against homosexuality has no clear effect either in diminishing or increasing its prevalence.Both authors argued that "inversion" (read: homosexuality) was "congenital" (read: genetic). What's somewhat startling is that this is still a debate among some sectors, 120 years later.
Some of these guys, like Sir Richard Francis Burton (of "1,001 Arabian Nights"), proposed absolutely ludicrous ideas. He posited a Sotadic zone where homosexuality ("le Vice") was supposedly common. If you look at the map, it's pretty much everywhere, according to Burton, except northern and western Europe--and those French look mighty suspicious! In fact, Burton claims homosexuality was more common in warmer regions of the world--the first, and to date only, "meteorological theory of sexuality".
Others, like Edward Carpenter, are shocking. His 1914 "The Intermediate Sex" is radical even by today's standards. Rather than apologizing for homosexuality and saying it was more or less a "sad and sorry state", the way even Symonds was prone to, Carpenter suggests homosexuality and democracy are inextricably intertwined. It's actually kind of exciting. According to Carpenter, sex and love bind men together, and bind the nation together. He wrote
Eros is a great leveler. Perhaps the true Democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society.Even by today's standards, this is a radical notion. He's also the first to suggest the notion that there are "normal" homosexuals out there and that the only reason psychologists regard homosexuality is abnormal is because only people with psychological problems needs to see psychologists in the first place. In other words, he suggests that because psychologists only see abnormal homosexuals, they think homosexuality is the cause of the abnormality.
[Edit: Wow! Community Spotlight! I'm honored. Thank you very much!]