Mag­nus Hirschfeld, Marielle Franco, Robert Graves and Mar­sha P. Johnson. Who were they?

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Words Maisie Barker from LGBT His­tory Month

Mag­nus Hirschfeld, Marielle Franco, Robert Graves and Mar­sha P. Johnson. Who were they? Maisie Barker from LGBT His­tory Month looks back at the lives of four pi­o­neers of the queer move­ment.

If you were asked to name a fa­mous LGBT per­son from his­tory, who would you choose? Alan Tur­ing? Os­car Wilde? Maybe Au­dre Lorde if you’re that way in­clined. In 2019, LGBT His­tory Month will cel­e­brate its 15th birth­day and the theme is Peace, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Ac­tivism. Each year, four faces are cho­sen to rep­re­sent each part of LGBT. Th­ese faces fea­ture heav­ily in the ma­te­ri­als pro­duced for LGBT His­tory Month and of­fer a chance for the com­mu­nity to dis­cover hid­den icons from the past.

The chal­lenge with his­tor­i­cal fig­ures is de­ci­pher­ing their lives through our mod­ern lens. Can we de­fine some­one as trans­gen­der when the word barely ex­isted? Can we ar­gue that some­one was gay based on a few (of­ten edited) pieces of writ­ing? It can be ar­gued that, given that ne­ces­sity to be clos­eted, the few clues we do find can in­di­cate a much richer his­tory than has been pre­vi­ously agreed. So now we have that de­bate out of the way, let’s find out who they are. The four faces of 2019 are Mag­nus Hirschfeld, Marielle Franco, Robert Graves and Mar­sha P. Johnson. Who were they?

Mag­nus Hirschfeld might mean some­thing to the aca­demics amongst you (or those with a pass­ing in­ter­est in the Weimar world of Christo­pher Ish­er­wood). He is widely re­garded as the ‘first ad­vo­cacy for ho­mo­sex­ual and trans­gen­der rights’ due to his op­er­a­tion of the Sci­en­tific-Hu­man­i­tar­ian Com­mit­tee.

A Ger­man-Jewish physi­cian and sex­ol­o­gist, he pi­o­neered a com­pas­sion­ate un­der­stand­ing and treat­ment of ho­mo­sex­ual men. Driven by the propen­sity of his gay pa­tients to sui­cide, and the trial of Os­car Wilde in nearby Bri­tain, Hirschfeld worked to un­der­stand a ‘uni­ver­sal­ity of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity’.

At the time, gay Ger­mans were pros­e­cuted un­der Para­graph 175, a sec­tion of Ger­man law that crim­i­nalised ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Hirschfeld and his Com­mit­tee ar­gued that this left gay ci­ti­zens vul­ner­a­ble to black­mail and be­lieved that in­creased sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity would im­prove their so­cial stand­ing. The Com­mit­tee cre­ated a pe­ti­tion to over­turn Para­graph 175 and was sup­ported by such lu­mi­nar­ies as Al­bert Ein­stein, Rainer Maria Rilke, Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Thomas Mann. He also pi­o­neered un­der­stand­ing of peo­ple who would now be con­sid­ered trans­gen­der. He cat­a­logued 64 dif­fer­ent types of sex­ual role in­volv­ing gen­der pre­sen­ta­tion, sex­ual iden­tity and gen­der iden­tity. Dur­ing the lib­eral days of the Weimar Repub­lic, Hirschfeld cre­ated the In­sti­tut für Sex­u­al­wis­senschaft (In­sti­tute of Sex­ual Re­search) which was home to his work on in­ves­ti­gat­ing sex­u­al­ity. He also shel­tered trans­gen­der peo­ple, giv­ing them jobs when they would stru‘le to find other em­ploy­ment.

At the out­break of WWII, Hirschfeld trav­elled ex­ten­sively across the United States and Asia, seek­ing to de­velop his ideas about ho­mo­sex­ual be­hav­iour. His In­sti­tute re­mained open but was in­creas­ingly tar­geted by Nazis, cul­mi­nat­ing in a mass book burn­ing on 10 May 1933. Hirschfeld never re­turned to Ger­many. Hirschfeld’s com­pas­sion­ate at­ti­tude to ho­mo­sex­u­als was in con­trast

with the hos­til­ity they faced from all other sec­tions of Ger­man so­ci­ety. His op­po­nents be­lieved ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity to be a choice, that ‘de­gen­er­ates’ lured young boys into ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and that they should be pun­ished. By openly sup­port­ing gay rights, Hirschfeld pushed the progress of LGBT rights in Ger­many for­ward.

With the re­cent elec­tion of Jair Bol­sonaro in Brazil, it might seem in­cred­u­lous that a fig­ure such as Marielle Franco could have rep­re­sented the same coun­try. As a black les­bian fem­i­nist, Marielle would al­ways have a tar­get on her back, lead­ing to her mur­der in 2018. Marielle was born in a slum in Rio de Janeiro and soon be­came in­ter­ested in hu­man rights ac­tivism. She worked for var­i­ous state rep­re­sen­ta­tives and in many rights or­gan­i­sa­tions. In 2016 she ran for city coun­cil and re­ceived the fifth high­est num­ber of votes out of more than 1,500 can­di­dates. She fought against gen­der vi­o­lence which was epi­demic in Brazil. She was con­cerned with re­pro­duc­tive rights and the rights of those in the fave­las (slums). She at­tempted to cre­ate a day of les­bian vis­i­bil­ity but the bill was de­feated. She was an out­spo­ken critic of po­lice bru­tal­ity and cor­rup­tion. On 13 March 2018, she was as­sas­si­nated by be­ing shot four times whilst in her car. Her mur­der re­mains un­solved.

Robert Graves’ work may be more fa­mil­iar than his his­tory: he was the au­thor of Good­bye To All That, which chron­i­cled his time in WWI, and I, Claudius. Dur­ing the war he fre­quently com­mu­ni­cated with Siegfried Sas­soon and Wil­fred Owen and the for­mer noted the im­pli­ca­tion of ho­mo­sex­ual ten­den­cies in Graves’ poems. He pub­licly sup­ported Siegfried Sas­soon when Sas­soon made pub­lic an­ti­war state­ments. Both would later be sent to a med­i­cal hos­pi­tal to re­cover from shell shock. Graves was hon­oured, among six­teen other Great War poems, in West­min­ster Abbey in 1985. It was also re­vealed that he had been short­listed for the 1962 No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture. It’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to pin­point ex­act ori­en­ta­tions of those who lived in the past. But his gay re­la­tion­ships in youth and his even­tual mar­riages to women in­di­cate that he would have iden­ti­fied as bi­sex­ual had the terms and so­cial ac­cep­tance been avail­able.

No dis­cus­sion on LGBT ac­tivism would be com­plete with­out ref­er­ence to Mar­sha P. Johnson. As enig­matic as she was in­de­fin­able, the myth of Mar­sha has al­most come to eclipse her life’s work. Fac­ing ho­mo­pho­bia at home Mar­sha left and im­mersed her­self with New York’s LGBT com­mu­nity. She quickly be­came an icon – a tall, slen­der drag queen who iden­ti­fied her gen­der as ‘pay it no mind’ – and was pho­tographed by Andy Warhol.

A lot of con­fu­sion re­volves around the ex­act se­ries of events at the Stonewall Inn; it is pos­si­ble that it will never be­come clear (Mar­sha her­self claimed she didn’t ar­rive till early morn­ing) but what is clear is that Mar­sha was at the fore­front of LGBT rights ac­tivism through­out her life. She was active with ACT-UP, the Gay Lib­er­a­tion Front and co-founded the Street Transvestite Ac­tion Rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies (STAR) and STAR House, which housed home­less queer youths and sex work­ers. She was found dead in the Hudson River on 6 July 1992. She was 46 years old. Whilst her ex­act his­tory can be dif­fi­cult to pin down, it’s un­de­ni­able the im­pact that Mar­sha has had on queer ac­tivism and on keep­ing in­ter­est in LGBT his­tory alive.

What links th­ese four to­gether is their ded­i­ca­tion to high­light­ing the le­gal per­se­cu­tion of mi­nor­ity groups. All four faced in­sur­mount­able odds and atroc­i­ties and ded­i­cated their en­er­gies to de­vel­op­ing a bet­ter world for us all. As LGBT peo­ple, they faced an up­hill bat­tle through­out their lives but hope­fully, the ef­forts of LGBT His­tory Month will en­sure their bat­tles will go on recog­nised.

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