In an era of anti-trans laws, “Don’t Say Gay Bills,” and a growing number of physical, verbal and cyber-attacks, open displays of contempt for queer people all over the world have become a clear trend.
To avoid trying to explain how all of this lands on gay people who are incarcerated, I’d rather spend Pride 2022 and Juneteenth building the morale of our incarcerated soulmates with a few facts that are affirming and grounded in history. These are reminders of why we all must continue to say “gay.”
“The command of self-respect and human dignity should never exist in the same company with a plea for empathy.” – Paralaxboi
The word “homosexual” did not come from the science community, nor did it come from the medical sector of society. And no, the word did not come from American religious institutions. The word “homosexuality” was coined by a journalist named Karl-Maria Kertbeny (Feb. 28, 1824 – Jan. 23, 1882). As a young person working as a bookseller’s apprentice in Berlin in 1868, this Austrian born Hungarian had a close friend who was gay. This young man killed himself after being blackmailed by an extortionist. Karl said it was this tragic episode that drove him into what he called an “instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice.”
While most people focus on the word’s prefix, homo — from the Greek meaning “same” — Karl-Maria Kertbeny also knew that in Latin, homo also means “human.”
In 1868, Karl coined the word “homosexual,” which he would later use in a couple of pamphlets where he argued that the Prussian sodomy law violated the “rights of man.” He also advanced the classic liberal argument that consensual sex acts in private should not be subject to criminal law. Re calling his young friend, Karl argued that the Prussian law allowed blackmailers to extort money from homosexuals and often drove them to suicide. The word did not appear in the English language until 1892.
Karl-Maria Kertbeny did something else amazing. He first used the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” in a private letter on May 8, 1868, advocating for a different system for classifying sexual types. He wanted to replace the pejorative terms “sodomite,” and “pederast,” from the German and French speaking world of his time. Just a thought to remind gay youth of today how powerful they are as they fight against the “Don’t Say Gay Bills” in America: yeah kids, hatred runs deep in history.
When we juxtapose these dates with what was going on in America at the same time, we find that Karl-Maria Kertbeny created the word “homosexual” in Germany three years after the last enslaved Africans in the State of Texas learned about the end of slavery on June 19, 1865. American enslavers did not create the word or the act.
I’ll close with yet another matter about Karl-Maria Kertbeny. Along with Heinrich Hössli and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, he was among the first writers to put before the public that many of the great heroes and sheroes of history were gay.
Crash version – While some people focus on the gender part and others focus on the sex part of the word “homosexual,” nobody focuses on the human aspect even though the word “homosexual” was created to confront bullies and to expose the injustices of blackmail and extortion, abuse, mistreatment, and discrimination caused by fellow humans who supremacize themselves over others, and that is a liberated fact.