The year was 1977 when I first made contact with Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Who would have known at the time how he would change a life, even though he had been dead for 82 years.
In 1972, I met and started a relationship with Michael Lombardi. He was studying German at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and was very active in the anti-Vietnam-war movement. I was a closeted Gay man attending Los Angeles City College (LACC). Wanting to become Gay activists but not doing much about it, we watched the Gay Pride parade, which was held in Hollywood in those days, and we would join in at the end of the march and attend rallies. That was the extent of our activism.
Michael spent most of his time in classes or studying for them. If some anti-war demonstration or march was taking place, he was always there. Because I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, I started going to those events with him. I also started reading a few of the books he needed for class assignments (of course I read the English translations while he had to read them in German). I quickly found that I really enjoyed both these activities, and they helped our relationship grow stronger.
In 1975, while Michael and I were in Germany for several months, we did attend meetings of the Homosexual Initiative-Essen. By 1976 the experience of the German activism got mixed in with our desire to become activists.
One day in 1977 Michael came home from UCLA and said he had gone to the section of the campus library that housed books pertaining to homosexuality. He related how, as he was browsing among the many books on the subject, one of them seemed to pull his hand to it and make him take it off the shelf. He scanned the book, found it might be interesting, and brought it home to read.
He became engrossed and kept saying things like "Wow, listen to this" or "listen to what he writes here," or "I wish you could read this". It seemed every five minutes he was interrupting my studies and concentration. I became so vexed and irritated by the interruptions that I told him to stop bothering me, that if he wanted me to read it, to translate the thing and I would. The book that had chosen him was an original copy of one of the 12 books of research written by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. I had inadvertently pointed Michael's activism in the direction of translating Ulrichs' works.
It just so happened I was taking journalism at LACC and had been assigned to work on the weekly school newspaper. I had written a few reviews and feature articles when one day the class advisor assigned me an opinion column to be published in two weeks. At the same time, my speech instructor had assigned that class to prepare and give a speech to inspire. A week went by. I still had not chosen a subject for either class. It was the Saturday before my assignments were due and I was reading through several Gay newspapers picked up from the local bar. The stories were not what would be classified as good news, mostly beatings, killings, raids of bars, and electro-shock therapy for homosexual behavior. Depressing stuff. I was sitting on the sun porch musing about my school assignments and commented to Michael that I should probably write and speak about homosexuality but didn't have the nerve, and I proceeded to mewl and pule about my school work.
"Here," Michael said, as he handed me several sheets of paper. "You wanted me to translate the Ulrichs I was reading, so here it is. Maybe this will inspire you."
It was titled Raging Sword (Gladius furens). I was intrigued immediately by the title and then the first words: "Speak, speak, or be judged!" I sat in the California sun and was mesmerized by what I was reading. It blew me away, as we were fond of saying in those days.
After reading the book, I sat down at the typewriter, and, using Raging Sword as inspiration, dashed off an opinion piece about coming out. I then took the same material and turned it into a speech to inspire. Finally, I wrote to all of my family. The article was printed. I gave my speech in front of the class. My family reacted favorably. I was scared but with those three steps I was out and happily out for good. To add to my new sense of worth, both assignments won me prizes, and a couple of family members came out to me.
Michael was urged by other friends and myself to translate Ulrichs' remaining books and to find a publisher. He did translate them but a publisher was difficult to find, so we hit upon the idea to publish them ourselves in manuscript form, which we did for the next 17 years. Our purpose has always been three: to make this work available in English, to show that the Gay rights movement started long before the 1969 Stonewall riots, and to popularize Ulrichs' life and work. As far as we know, Ulrichs is indeed the leader of the pack in defense of same-sex love. His life was so dramatic and tragic, his works so historic and inspirational, that Michael and I decided to do all we could to keep the name and work of this heroic pioneer alive.
After more than a dozen years of translating Ulrichs, Vern Bullough, a distinguished professor and a consulting editor at Prometheus Books, contacted Michael in 1990. Dr. Bullough had a sex classics in translation series in mind and offered to help publish Ulrichs' books. He also asked Michael to translate two works by Magnus Hirschfeld, the next really important person after Karl Heinrich Ulrichs to propel the Gay movement forward in a positive direction.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs entered my heart on that Saturday and has been with me ever since. His inspiration lifted all the dark clouds of being a homosexual that had hovered over me for more than 35 years, and since then I have devoted most of my life popularizing Ulrichs' life and work. Michael, who was leaning toward teaching German, instead became a translator. We hope you enjoy this web site and will take part in Celebration 2000: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, 175 Years of Pride.
The Odeon Theater History was made here: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs addressed the 500-member Association of German Jurists in Munich, Germany, on August 29, 1867. In the following excerpt, Ulrichs dramatically describes the occasion.
From Raging Sword (Gladius Furens 1868)
Until my dying day I will look back with pride when on August 29, 1867, I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the specter of an age-old, wrathful hydra 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.
What gave me strength at the last moment finally to mount the speaker's box at the Association of German Jurists was the awareness that at that very moment, the distant gaze of comrades of my nature was fixed on me. Should I return their trust with cowardice? Also giving me strength were thoughts still fresh, indeed, still smoldering, of a suicide caused by the ruling system, in Bremen in 1866. And also a letter I received as I was on my way to our session, informing me that a colleague had remarked about me, "Numa is afraid to take action."
In spite of all this, moments of weakness continued to assail me, and an evil voice whispered in my ear: "There's still time for silence, Numa. You need only to renounce the words you have prepared. Then your heart palpitations shall cease!"
But then it seemed to me as if another voice began to whisper. It was the warning not to be silent, the voice that had warned my predecessor Heinrich Hössli in Glarus [Switzerland] thirty years before, and which at that moment loudly resounded in my mind with all its force:
[Hössli wrote:] "Two paths lay before me: to write this book and expose myself to persecution, or not to write and be riddled with guilt when I enter my grave. For surely I have already been confronted with the temptation to give up writing. But then the images of Plato and the Greek poets and heroes would appear to me, those who belonged to the nature of Eros and in it became what they could become for humanity.
"And beside these images I saw before me what we have caused such men to become. Before my eyes appeared the images of the persecuted and of those already damned who are yet unborn, and I behold the unhappy mothers beside their cradles rocking cursed, innocent children! Then I saw our judges and their blindfolded eyes. Finally I envisioned the gravedigger sliding the cover of my coffin over my cold face.
"Then, before I became enslaved to him, the overwhelming urge to rise and stand up for the oppressed truth conquered me with all its power. And so I continued to write with my eyes resolutely turned away from those who labor for my annihilation. I do not have a choice between keeping silence and speaking. I say to myself: Speak, or be judged!"
I should like to be worthy of Hössli. I, too, did not desire to come under the hand of the gravedigger without having openly attested to my oppressed inalienable rights and without having broken through a narrow passage to freedom, even if with less renown than a greater name of the past.
With these thoughts and with my heart pounding in my breast, I mounted the speaker's box on August 29, 1867, in the Grand Hall of the Odeon Theater in front of more than 500 jurists of Germany, among whom were members of the German parliament and a Bavarian prince. I mounted with God!
...there was apparent amazement and scorn; isolated calls to adjourn...
...there was a tempestuous outcry, "Adjourn, adjourn!"...
...But now outbursts as loud as the previous ones came from the opposite side of the hall, "No, no, continue, continue..."
...There was a chaotic uproar and violent interruption. Uncommon excitement in the gathering on that side that previously called for adjournment...The president says, "I request that the speaker continue reading his proposal in Latin." But I took my notes and left the speaker's box...
Ulrichs could have chosen not to attend the cocktail party for the Association of German Jurists at the Glass