the karl heinrich ulrichs award

At its meeting held in 2002 in Turin, Italy, the Board of ILGLaw decided to establish an award to be conferred at each triennial conference. The Award is named in honour of German lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, whose life is described below. The “Karl” is conferred on a person, living or dead, who during their lifetime achieved a significant victory or otherwise made an important contribution to the cause of equality under the law for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons. Each region of ILGLaw is entitled to nominate a candidate, who is then chosen by a free vote by the directors. The voting directors of ILGLaw are not eligible for the Karl.

karl heinrich ulrichs (1825-1895)

Karl HeinrichKarl Heinrich Ulrichs Ulrichs was the world's first openly gay lawyer. He “came out” very publicly in 1867 before no less a group than the national assembly of his peers, the German Association of Jurists.

Ulrichs publicly identified himself using his own coined term for people attracted to persons of the same sex, a “Uranian” (the term homosexual was not coined until 1869 by Karl-Maria Kertbeny). With the prospect of German unification looming, he pleaded with his colleagues not to support the Prussian approach of criminal sanctions for homosexual acts. Ulrichs argued that homosexual behaviour was natural for homosexual persons and that it was inborn. Therefore, he argued, it would be unjust to subject homosexuals to criminal sanctions. Ulrichs went further and insisted that “Uranians” had the right to happiness.

Regrettably, his heroic act was unsuccessful. Prussia's paragraph 175 entered the new German criminal code. It would be used long after the death of Ulrichs in a particularly ruthless persecution of gays by the Nazi regime.

Ulrichs himself eventually went into a self-imposed exile in L'Aquila, Italy, where he died and is buried. Today, his grave is a site honoured by the international lesbian and gay community. Despite persecution by his government and profession, Ulrichs never regretted his activism, writing:

"Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre 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."