The First Known Use of the Word 'Homosexual' Goes on Display in Berlin

Berlin's natural history museum features gay history exhibition 

Germany’s most prominent history museum, The Deutsche Historisches in Berlin, is showcasing 150 years of the country’s homosexual history for Pride Week. Among the featured items is a letter written in 1868 that is believed to be the first written use of the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” And it’s kind of sweet.

Karl Maria-Kantberry, a human rights campaigner, wrote the letter to German law student Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Ulrichs, who was gay himself, wrote a study in 1864 entitled, “Researches On The Riddle Of Male-Male Love.” In 1867, he appeared before the Congress of German Jurists in Munich, campaigning for the de-criminalization of sodomy.

Here is an excerpt from the letter, in which he is discussing heterosexuals:

They were also capable of giving themselves over to same-sex excesses. Additionally, normally-sexed individuals were no less likely to engage in self-defilement [masturbation] if there was insufficient opportunity to satisfy their sex drive. And they were equally likely to assault male but especially female minors…; to indulge in incest; to engage in bestiality…; and even to behave depravedly with corpses if their moral self-control does not control their lust.

Germany, like every other country in the world, has a turbulent history with its gay citizens, but Germany’s current political climate is primed for a conversation. Civil partnerships have been legal there since 2001, but full-fledged marriage is not. Cultural Minister Monika Grutters has stated this showcase contextualizes the current debate and shows how “hard fought” progress can be.

The exhibition, entitled “Homosexuality_lies,” will run from Friday June 26 through December 1st.

Related Tags