The Memorial to the First Homosexual Emancipation Movement

The world's first LGBT organization was founded in Berlin and is commemorated with a symbol of gender and sexuality in nature

More than 70 years before the Stonewall riots in New York City and the Pride movement, the world's first LGBT organization was founded in Berlin.

The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was founded in 1897 in Berlin by Magnus Hirschfeld in an attempt to stop the persecution of gays by the authorities and for the recognition of gays, lesbians and transgender people by society.

Magnus Hirschfeld was the head of the Institute for Sexual Research, where he researched gender and sexuality. Hirschfeld was gay himself and through his research he discovered that gender is not binary and that transgender is an innate characteristic.

Villa Joachim in Tiergarten, home to Magnus Hirschfeld's Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.Postcard with a picture of 'Villa Joachim' in Tiergarten, where Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science was housed.

The committee's motto was Per scientiam ad justitiam, or "through science to justice", and it used Hirschfeld's research to influence the German authorities.

The primary focus of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was the infamous Paragraph 175 of the Penal Code, which prohibited male prostitution and men from having sexual intercourse with each other. The committee used science to argue that the paragraph should be repealed because homosexuality was neither a disease nor moral decay.

The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee also published pamphlets for sex education – including a brochure entitled Was soll das Volk vom dritten Geschlecht wissen? or "What should people know about the third sex?".

The cover of the brochure on the third gender published by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.The cover of the brochure on the third gender by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.

The third gender refers to transvestites, as Magnus Hirschfeld named the people who behaved and dressed as the opposite sex – what we today call transgender people.

At its peak, the committee had more than 700 members in branches across Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The Scientific Humanitarian Committee was dissolved in June 1933, five months after Hitler came to power in Germany.

Invitation to the members to dissolve the Scientific Humanitarian Committee.Invitation to the members to dissolve the Scientific Humanitarian Committee on June 8, 1933.

Hitler and the Nazis believed that homosexuality was a Jewish conspiracy, and Berlin's LGBT+ community was forcibly shut down, with many arrested and sent to concentration camps. Hirschfeld, himself Jewish, fled to Paris and died of a heart attack on his birthday in 1935.

The memorial to the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee is located along the river Spree. The Institute for Sexual Science was located on the opposite bank of the river on the corner of In den Zelten and Beethovenstraße. The villa was destroyed during the air strikes in November 1944 and the address no longer exists.

Memorial to the First Homosexual Emancipation MovementThe memorial with its six lilies and two info boards.
Photo by Chrissie Sternschnuppe@Flickr. CC BY-SA

The memorial was erected in 2017 and consists of six calla lilies in each of the colors of the Pride rainbow. A calla lily has the special property that one plant consist of both male and female flowers, and thus the memorial symbolizes both gender and sexuality in nature.

There are also two boards that tell the story of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and the people, besides Magnus Hirschfeld, who founded the world's first LGBT organization.

The info boards at Memorial to the First Homosexual Emancipation Movement.The info boards at Memorial to the First Homosexual Emancipation Movement.
Photo by Chrissie Sternschnuppe@Flickr. CC BY-SA
Where: Along Magnus-Hirschfeld-Ufer in Berlin-Mitte not far from the Reichstag.
Family friendly: Yes
Price: Free