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Kertbeny 200

The spread and impact of the word “homosexual”

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), German-Austrian doctor, federal medical examiner, psychiatrist and sexologist

Portrait of John Addington Symonds, English poet, literary critic, theorist; given as a gift to Walt Whitman, 1889

Portrait of Charles Gilbert Chaddock, American neurologist, 1900

The first public use of the expression “homosexual” is found in the German-Austrian psychiatrist and federal medical examiner Krafft-Ebing’s famous Psychopatia Sexualis, published in 1886. It is one of the first monographs on sexual pathologies and the first among the early works on homosexuality. The fact that the book was not only popular among doctors but lay people as well helped popularize the term “homosexual”.

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing: Psychopatia Sexualis, front page of the first edition, 1886

John Addington Symonds: A Problem in Greek Ethics, reprint collection edition, 1983

In his 1873 work titled A Problem in Greek Ethics, the English poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds (1940-1893) also used the expression, however, his study only reached a limited audience.

In 1892, the American neurologist Charles Gilbert Chaddock (1861-1936) translated Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis into English, introducing the term to the English-speaking audience.

German journalist Maximilian Harden in 1911

Prince Philipp von Eulenburg, photograph by Erwin Raupp, 1906

Prussian army officer and commander of Berlin, Kuno Augustus Friedrich Karl Detlev Graf von Moltke

German doctor, sexologist and gay rights activist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935)

After the turn of the century, the press coverage of the Harden–Eulenburg scandal significantly helped the spread of the word “homosexual”. The journalist and publisher Maximilian Harden (1861-1927) publicly accused Prince Philipp Eulenburg (1847-1921), diplomat and influential friend of Emperor William II, of having an affair with General Kuno von Moltke (1847-1923). The convoluted scandal, involving many influential political figures, was followed by lawsuits between 1907 and 1909. The case, similarly to the Oscar Wilde trial, was widely reported on. The press followed the lengthy procedure closely, giving publicity to the question of homosexuality in Germany, as well as Magnus Hirschfeld’s struggles against paragraph 175 of the criminal code (StGB). The Hungarian press also covered the case in detail, contributing to the spread of the expression “homoszexuális” in Hungary. 

Excerpt from an article published in Népszava (People’s Voice), October 25, 1907. 

Károly Kertbeny’s tombstone, funded by public donations, and its ordination in the Fiume Road Cemetery

The word “homosexual” became widespread in the 20th century: in official language, in science, and in public life alike. Over the past decades, the expression “homosexual” has often been criticized: some consider it to be medicalizing, or to place too much emphasis on sexuality; others, stressing diversity within sexual minorities, suggested new terminology that more clearly defines various identities (gay, lesbian, queer). 

The grave of Károly Kertbeny was identified in the Fiumei Road Cemetery by sociologist and historian Judit Takács. In 2001, a tomb was erected from the donations collected by the LGBT magazine Mások (Others). In 2011, the grave was declared part of the National Graveyard by the National Memorial and Piety Committee, becoming therefore protected.