New exhibition honors gay movement pioneer Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld

Autographed portrait (1926); frontispiece of the first volume of Hirschfeld’s five-volume German-language survey of sexual knowledge.

This year marks the 85th anniversary of Dr. Magnus Hirsch­feld’s visit to San Francisco. Starting in the late 1890s, Hirschfeld was a groundbreaking defender of homosexual and transgender peo­ple in Germany and beyond. He was internationally renowned as a founder of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the world’s first homosexual advocacy group, and as creator of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Both organizations were banned when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Hirschfeld died in exile three years later.

In a new exhibition opening on August 19, we offer an introduction to Hirschfeld’s life, work and legacy. Through Knowledge to Justice: The Sexual World of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) features first editions, vintage periodicals and ephemera largely drawn from the collection assembled by curator Gerard Koskovich over the past three decades. In addition, the exhibition will include historic film documenting Hirschfeld’s impact and the fate of his work.

Curator Gerard Koskovich

“Although the Nazi regime did its best to erase the memory of Hirschfeld and his contributions, it didn’t succeed. We remember Hirschfeld today not only because he helped found the movement to defend LGBTQ people more than a century ago, but also because his work as a sexologist was prescient,” Koskovich said. “With its emphasis on ‘sexual intermediacy,’ Hirschfeld’s thinking prefigures contemporary ideas about the continuum of sexual orientation, genderqueer expression and sexual fluidity.”

Among the scarce artifacts that will be displayed are the 1904 booklet distributed by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee to advocate repeal of Germany’s sodomy law; one of the 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 was consigned to the flames; and a review copy of the last of Hirschfeld’s books published during his lifetime, inscribed by the author three weeks before his death in exile in Nice, France.

Through Knowledge to Justice opens August 19 and runs through December. An opening reception will be held on Friday, August 19, at 7 p.m. Admission to the reception: $5.00.

Sponsors: Hermes Foundation, German Consulate General in San Francisco, Jeff Zimman & Ken Ruebush

Cosponsors: Consulate General of France in San Francisco, Goethe-Institut of San Francisco, Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft e.V. (Berlin)