Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft e.V. Forschungsstelle zur Geschichte der Sexualwissenschaft

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Through Knowledge to Justice: The Sexual World of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935). A historical exhibition

This year marks the 85th anniversary of Dr. Magnus Hirsch­feld’s visit to San Francisco. Hirschfeld was a pio­neer­ing advocate for homosexual and transgender peo­ple, a physician and a prolific author renowned for his work on sexual and gender diversity. During his 1930–1931 tour of the United States, the Hearst news­paper chain dubbed him “the Einstein of Sex.”

The GLBT History Museum offers a brief introduction to his life, work and legacy through an exhibition of first editions, illustrated periodicals and historic ephemera largely drawn from a local private collection. Among the scarce artifacts on display is one of a handful of volumes known to have survived the first book-burning of the Nazi regime, where the library of Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin was destroyed.

SPONSOR: Hermes Foundation

COSPONSORS: Consulate General of France in San Francisco, German Consulate General San Francisco, Goethe-Institut San Francisco, Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft (Berlin).

Exhibition Contents

Curated by historian Gerard Koskovich, the exhibition will feature scarce historical materials including inscribed first editions by Hirschfeld and his colleagues, illustrated magazines from the period, anti-Hirschfeld propaganda produced by the Nazis, and materials documenting Hirschfeld’s legacy in the years since his death.

High points will include an 1898 booklet by Hirschfeld calling for repeal of Germany’s anti-sodomy law and one of an estimated 35 volumes known to have survived the Nazi’s book-burning that destroyed the library of the Institute for Sexual Science. Many of the items come from the curator’s private collection gathered over the past 30 years; others come from the archives of the GLBT Historical Society.

Associated Program

In association with the exhibition, the museum will sponsor at least one public program: a panel discussion bringing together historians who will discuss Hirschfeld’s contributions and highlight their ongoing significance. Among the speakers who have tentatively agreed to participate is Prof. Gayle Rubin of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), an internationally recognized scholar of queer theory and sexuality theory.

Why This Exhibition? Why Now?

The collections at Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science were the forebears of today’s LGBTQ archives and museums. From the time of our founding, The GLBT Historical Society has been part of an international move- ment to repair the devastating loss represented by the destruction of the Institute’s collections.

Hirschfeld’s life and work merit attention not only because we are celebrating the 85th anniversary of his stay in San Francisco, but also because his importance as a forerunner of more recent struggles for LGBTQ rights has yet to earn the widespread public recognition it clearly merits.

With his emphasis on “sexual intermediacy”—the notion that sexuality and gender are not fixed in binary cate- gories of heterosexual-homosexual and male-female—Hirschfeld’s work also appears increasingly as an ancestor of contemporary concepts of genderqueer identities, the continuum of sexual orientation and sexual fluidity.

Finally, Hirschfeld just this year has reclaimed a moment in the celebrity spotlight, with a subplot in season two of the hit Amazon TV series Transparent devoted to flashbacks featuring the Institute for Sexual Science.