Ardent socialist (author of the anthem England Arise, founding member of the Independent Labour Party), feminist (saying, “there is no solution except the freedom of woman,” he considered traditional marriage to be a form of prostitution), gay activist (his ground-breaking books like My Days and Dreams and The Intermediate Sex go far beyond earlier essays by his friend John Addington Symonds), pacifist, nudist, mystic, poet, and the first person to introduce sandals to modern Britain, Edward Carpenter’s greatest legacy may be how he lived his life. Utterly changed after reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1863, he began to dream of a brotherhood of manly love that would erase class lines and give rise to a true democracy. After graduating from Cambridge and leaving a position vacated by Leslie Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s father, Carpenter gave public lectures in Leeds intended for the working class (but attended only by the middle class, who didn’t warm to his ideas) and sought to befriend laborers, unsuccessfully. Finally in 1891, after meeting by chance on a train, he and uneducated George Merrill became lovers. In 1898, when Carpenter was fifty-four and Merrill was thirty-two, they established a house together, absolutely unheard of in an England still widely antigay in the aftermath of the Oscar Wilde trials. They lived together openly as a couple for thirty years until Merrill’s death, and their cross-class love was the direct inspiration for their friend E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice, as well as D.H. Lawrence’s heterosexualized version, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Not all authors were so enamored. In the decade after Carpenter’s death, George Orwell ridiculed “every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer [and] sex maniac” among the Socialists. Yet an American Communist, Harry Hay, credited Carpenter’s writings for galvanizing him to start the first gay rights group, The Mattachine Society, in Los Angeles in 1950. The Lammy winning biography of Carpenter by Sheila Rowbotham was Peter Tatchell's and Jeanette Winterson's favorite book of 2008 and Sarah Schulman's favorite lgbt book of 2009.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs had an affair with his riding instructor when he was fourteen, was forced to quit his civil servant job for being gay when he was thirty-four, and began publishing pamphlets explaining and defending same-sex love when he was thirty-seven. Five years later, the day after his forty-second birthday, he addressed the German congress, coming out publicly and demanding they repeal their anti-gay laws. It was 1867, one hundred two years before Stonewall, and he was shouted down before he could finish his speech. Though his books were banned in Saxony and Berlin he continued writing on the subject for the rest of his life. In 1870, he published Araxes, which lays out all of the modern arguments for the rights of gay citizens. In 1879, he published the twelfth volume of his ongoing project, Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love, and moved to Italy, which was more hospitable. Indeed, Ulrichs was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Naples shortly before he died, one month prior to his seventieth birthday. Today, streets are named for him in Bremen, Hanover, and Munich, where this afternoon they will celebrate with their annual street party and poetry reading in Karl-Heinrich-Ulrichs-Platz. In his final years, he wrote
“Until my dying day I will look back with pride that I found the courage to come face to face in battle against the spectre which for time immemorial has been injecting poison into me and into men of my nature. Many have been driven to suicide because all their happiness in life was tainted. Indeed, I am proud that I found the courage to deal the initial blow to the hydra of public contempt.”