On this Day:
On May 15, 1887, the first-ever LGBT Organization: The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, was founded in Berlin by Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was a German physician who was an important theorist of sexuality and a prominent advocate of gay rights in the early 20th century. He established the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee with Max Spohr, Franz Josef von Bülow, and Eduard Oberg; it was the world’s first gay rights organization. Its main goal was to fight for the abolishment of Paragraph 175 of the German Imperial Penal Code, which punished sexual contact between men.
Early Life and Studies
Magnus Hirschfeld, (born May 14, 1868, Kolberg, Prussia [now Kołobrzeg, Poland]—died May 14, 1935, Nice, France),
Hirschfeld was born to Jewish parents in a Prussian town on the Baltic coast. He first studied modern languages and then medicine, obtaining a doctoral degree in 1892. In 1887, he began studying philosophy and philology in Breslau. It was at this time that he founded Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. He argued that the law encouraged blackmail. The motto of the Committee, “Justice through Science”, reflected Hirschfeld’s belief that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate social hostility toward homosexuals.
From 1888 to 1892 he studied medicine in Strasbourg, Munich, Heidelberg, and Berlin. In 1892, he earned his doctoral degree.
After his studies, he traveled through the United States for eight months, living from the proceeds of his writing for German journals.
During his time in Chicago, Hirschfeld became involved with the homosexual subculture in that city. Struck by the essential similarities between the homosexual subcultures of Chicago and Berlin, Hirschfeld first developed his theory about the universality of homosexuality across the world, as he researched in books and newspaper articles about the existence of gay subcultures in Rio de Janeiro, Tangier, and Tokyo.
On his return to Germany, he started a naturopathic practice in Magdeburg in 1894. In 1896, he moved his practice to Berlin-Charlottenburg, where he would become actively involved in the scientific study of sexuality, in particular, homosexuality, and advocacy efforts on behalf of sexual minorities.
Hirschfeld maintained that sexual orientation was innate and not a deliberate choice, and he believed that scientific understanding of sexuality would promote tolerance of sexual minorities. His sexology research was guided by empiricism and activism, driven by the belief that the sexual ideology of Judeo-Christian civilization was a serious obstacle to the understanding of sexuality and to the reform of laws and practices that regulated it.
Initially Hirschfeld supported the concept that homosexuals constituted the “third sex,” although he soon moved on from that. He is best known for his subsequent theory of sexual intermediaries, which held that there were many types of naturally occurring sexual variations found across the human population, such as hermaphroditism, homosexuality, and transvestism. He is also credited with coining the term transvestite.
Hirschfeld was one of the first theorists to promote the concept that a wide variety of gender identities exists. He described a continuous range of unique gender identities, “between which…there are no empty points present but rather unbroken connecting lines.”
As part of his study of gender, Hirschfeld coined the word “Transvestit” (“transvestite”) as a medical and scientific term in 1910. The word came into use in German society at the time as a judgment-free label. However, the term is widely considered offensive today. The German term was an early effort to define non-conforming gender identities. In the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, LGBTQ+ communities have built on and challenged this language.
Hirschfeld defined “transvestites” broadly as people who wore clothing of a different gender than that assigned to them at birth. This category encompassed a wide range of gender non-conforming people. It included those who occasionally dressed or performed in drag as well as people whose gender identities differed from those assigned to them at birth. In contrast to widely accepted ideas of the time, Hirschfeld asserted that people who identified as “transvestites” were not necessarily attracted to members of the same sex. Rather, he argued that their gender identity was distinct from their sexuality.
In the early twentieth century, communities of people who self-identified as “transvestites” grew in Germany, especially in Berlin. Hirschfeld provided many patients with counselling and support as they explored the complexities of their non-conforming gender identities. He also worked with the Berlin police to issue special passes called “Transvestitenschein” (“transvestite certificates”) to several people. These passes helped protect people from being harassed by the police and arrested for disorderly conduct or other such charges.
Hirschfeld believed that both human sexuality and gender identities were simply examples of natural variation. As such, they should have no stereotypes or judgments attached to them. Hirschfeld sought to promote acceptance of those who did not conform to existing sexual or gender norms. He conducted research, collected data, and spread awareness of his ideas and findings.
Hirschfeld accomplished an enormous amount of work during his lifetime with regards to his research, writing, and advocacy efforts. In 1897 Hirschfeld established the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. In 1899 he started the Yearbook of Intermediate Sexual Types, the first journal in the world to deal with sexual variants. It was regularly published until 1923. He also published an important study on cross-dressing, The Transvestites (1910). Hirschfeld was one of the founders of the Medical Society for Sexual Science and Eugenics, established in 1913. The next year he published his study Homosexuality in Men and Women, which was based on the expansive statistical surveys on homosexuality that he had conducted. In addition to publishing works on sexology and sexual reforms, Hirschfeld also wrote about racism, politics, and the history of morals.
In 1919 Hirschfeld opened the first sexology institute in the world, the Institute for Sexual Science, in Berlin. The institute and the considerable holdings of its library and archives were destroyed by Nazi demonstrators in 1933. Hirschfeld also participated in the production of the first film to call for the decriminalization and acceptance of homosexuality, “Different from the Others” (1919). The controversial film ignited much debate and was banned by German officials within a year. In 1928 Hirschfeld founded the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR), which had its roots in an early conference that he had organized in 1921: The First International Conference for Sexual Reform on a Scientific Basis. The WSLR called for reform of sex legislations, the right to contraception and sex education, and legal and social equality of the sexes.
Being a Jew, a gay man, and a sexual liberation activist made Hirschfeld the target of right-wing supporters, and he suffered serious injuries from an attack in 1920. Later, with the Nazis’ growing power, he was regularly assaulted, his lectures were disrupted, and, upon completion of his international speaking tour in 1932, he was unable to return to Germany. He instead went to Switzerland and then in 1934 to France, where he died the next year.
First, a Story:
While filling in a survey, I came across a gender option: Canadian.
I guess I am Eh-sexual.
Second, a Song:
Here is a short video on some of Magnus Hirschfeld’s achievements as reported by LGBT+ History Month with BCfm 93.2 and YouTube.com. We hope you will enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Soon the day will come when science will win victory over error, justice a victory over injustice, and human love a victory over human hatred and ignorance.” – Magnus Hirschfeld
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky