Medical Pioneer, Social Reformer. Born in the German city of Kolberg (now the Polish city Kolobrzeg), he experienced life as a double minority. As a Jew living in a historically anti-Semitic country, and as a gay man and transvestite living at a time when homosexuality was still believed to be a form of mental illness, he knew the importance of being organized and having a voice, because otherwise such scapegoated minority groups stood a greater chance of being persecuted. Hirschfeld originally began his career as a physician, but was quickly drawn to the study of human sexuality. As a very early pioneer of the gay rights movement, he urged other gay people living in Germany to get organized and to be activists for their cause. In 1897, he founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committe, which was instrumental in the formation of the gay rights movement. Although he encouraged everyone, particularly high-profile people, to join his cause even if they were heterosexual, he felt that the movement couldn't go too far unless more gay people actively joined in the struggle instead of letting heterosexuals gain acceptance for them. Hirschfeld was a voracious writer, writing an untold amount of books, essays, pamphlets, and other matter of printed material on homosexuality, tranvestisism, sexuality, and fetishism. Among thes writings were the 23-volume 'Yearbook for the Sexual Intermediaries,' which was the very first magazine devoted to gay studies. In 1919 Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexual Science, through which he carried out massive research and case studies lending even more credence to his theory that one's sexual orientation was inborn. He felt that if people knew there was a scientific basis for homosexuality, they would be more likely to accept it instead of passing legislation against it. The Institute also was home to the Museum of Sex. Besides publishing his writing, Hirschfeld also got his message across by travelling across Europe to lecture. These speeches often were given to packed houses. He once estimated that he had spoken to over 30,000 people, and his reputation as a dynamic personal speaker and compassionate listener, counselor, and educator made him a very sought-after party guest. In 1919 he also acted in and co-wrote the film 'Anders als die Andem' ('Different from the Others'), which had a very clear agenda for the reform of gay rights laws. However, his reputation also made him reviled among the people who disagreed with his work, and attacks on him increased as the fascists began rising to power. Sometimes his meetings would be disrupted by young gangs of Nazis, who would open fire on the crowds and throw stink bombs at Hirschfeld. He was physically attacked twice in 1920 and 1921, and during the second attack he was beaten so severely the stormtroopers left him for dead in the street. However, he recovered and went right on conducting his research into human sexuality, advocating for the repel of Paragraph 175 (legislation that made male gay relationships a crime), and speaking to packed houses. He also helped to found the World League for Sexual Reform, which was the first world gay rights organization. By 1930 the League had over 130,000 members. Shortly after Hitler came to power, things became worse for Hirschfeld. While he was on an international tour for the League, his Institute became the Nazis' first target in their new campaign against "un-German" material. On May 3, 1933, a large crowd of students and stormtroopers, with a marching band in tow, stormed the building. All of the writing and research Hirschfeld had done over the last few decades, along with magazines, books, articles, and research done by other sexologists, were carried off to Opera Square, where they were burned in a huge bonfire. Knowing he wouldn't be welcomed if he returned to Germany, Hirschfeld went into exile in France. He eventually made his home in Nice, where he died two years after his life's work had been destroyed.
Bio by: Carrie-Anne
Li Shiu Tong