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Great Speeches on Gay Rights

Great Speeches on Gay Rights

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by James Daley (Editor)

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"Even on the printed page these speeches retain their power." — The Gay & Lesbian Review
This comprehensive anthology traces the rhetoric of the gay rights movement from the late nineteenth century to the present. It chronicles the progression from its deeply clandestine beginnings to the battle for recognition, through political


"Even on the printed page these speeches retain their power." — The Gay & Lesbian Review
This comprehensive anthology traces the rhetoric of the gay rights movement from the late nineteenth century to the present. It chronicles the progression from its deeply clandestine beginnings to the battle for recognition, through political struggles and victories of the mid-twentieth century to its current position — at the forefront of the mainstream political debate concerning the fight for marriage equality. 
The speeches include Robert G. Ingersoll's "Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman"; Harvey Milk's "Hope Speech"; "Civil Liberties: A Progress Report" by Franklin Kameny; Harry Hay's "Unity and More in '84"; and Urvashi Vaid's "Speech at the March on Washington." Suitable for courses on contemporary politics and social issues, this edition is the only available compilation of speeches on gay rights. 

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Great Speeches on Gay Rights

By James Daley

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11566-5


Robert G. Ingersoll

Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman(Camden, New Jersey, March 30, 1892)

Robert Green Ingersoll [1833–1899] was a noted agnostic, a political leader in the Republican Party, one of the most highly acclaimed orators of the nineteenth century, and a close friend of Walt Whitman. He gave this speech before a crowd of several thousand at Whitman's funeral services at the Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey.

AGAIN, WE, in the mystery of Life, are brought face to face with the mystery of Death. A great man, a great American, the most eminent citizen of this Republic, lies dead before us, and we have met to pay tribute to his greatness and his worth.

I know he needs no words of mine. His fame is secure. He laid the foundations of it deep in the human heart and brain. He was, above all I have known, the poet of humanity, of sympathy. He was so great that he rose above the greatest that he met without arrogance, and so great that he stooped to the lowest without conscious condescension. He never claimed to be lower or greater than any of the sons of men.

He came into our generation a free, untrammeled spirit, with sympathy for all. His arm was beneath the form of the sick. He sympathized with the imprisoned and despised, and even on the brow of crime he was great enough to place the kiss of human sympathy.

One of the greatest lines in our literature is his, and the line is great enough to do honor to the greatest genius that has ever lived. He said, speaking of an outcast, "Not until the sun excludes you will I exclude you."

His charity was as wide as the sky, and wherever there was human suffering, human misfortune, the sympathy of Walt bent above it as the firmament bends above the earth.

He was built on a broad and splendid plan—ample, without appearing to have limitations—passing easily for a brother of mountains and seas and constellations; caring nothing for the little maps and charts with which timid pilots hug the shore, but giving himself freely with the recklessness of genius to winds and waves and tides; caring for nothing so long as the stars were above him. He walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnish-ers and veneer-ers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the unconscious majesty of an antique god.

He was the poet of that divine democracy which gives equal rights to all the sons and daughters of men. He uttered the great American voice; uttered a song worthy of the great Republic. No man has ever said more for the rights of humanity, more in favor of real democracy, of real justice. He neither scorned nor cringed; was neither tyrant nor slave. He asked only to stand the equal of his fellows beneath the great flag of nature, the blue and the stars.

He was the poet of life. It was a joy simply to breathe. He loved the clouds; he enjoyed the breath of morning, the twilight, the winds, the winding streams. He loved to look at the sea when the waves burst into the whitecaps of joy. He loved the fields, the hills; he was acquainted with the trees, with birds, with all the beautiful objects of the earth. He not only saw these objects, but understood their meaning, and he used them that he might exhibit his heart to his fellow men.

He was the poet of Love. He was not ashamed of that divine passion that has built every home; that divine passion that has painted every picture and given us every real work of art; that divine passion that has made the world worth living in and has given some value to human life.

He was the poet of the natural, and taught men not to be ashamed of that which is natural. He was not only the poet of democracy, not only the poet of the great Republic, but he was the poet of the human race. He was not confined to the limits of this country, but his sympathy went out over the seas to all the nations of the earth.

He stretched out his hands and felt himself the equal of all kings and of all princes, and the brother of all men, no matter how high, no matter how low.

He has uttered more supreme words than any writer of our century, possibly of almost any other. He was, above all things, a man, and above genius, above all the snow-capped peaks of intelligence, above all art, rises the true man.

He was the poet of Death. He accepted all life and all death, and he justified all. He had the courage to meet all, and was great enough and splendid enough to harmonize all and to accept all there is as divine melody.

You know better than I what his life has been, but let me say one thing: Knowing as he did, what others can know and what can not, he accepted and absorbed all theories, all creeds, all religions, and believed in none. His philosophy was a sky that embraced all clouds and accounted for all clouds. He had a philosophy and a religion of his own, broader, as he believed—and as I believe—than others. He accepted all, he understood all, and he was above all.

He was absolutely true to himself. He had frankness and courage, and he was as candid as light. He was willing that all the sons of man should be absolutely acquainted with his heart and brain. He had nothing to conceal. Frank, candid, pure, serene, noble, and yet for years he was maligned and slandered simply because he had the candor of nature. He will be understood yet, and that for which he was condemned his frankness, his candor—will add to the glory and greatness of his fame.

He wrote a liturgy for mankind; he wrote a great and splendid psalm of life, and gave to us the gospel of humanity—the greatest gospel that can be preached.

He was not afraid to live; not afraid to die. For many years he and Death lived near neighbors. He was always willing and ready to meet and greet this king called Death, and for many months he sat in the deepening twilight waiting for the night, waiting for the light.

He never lost his hope. When the mists filled the valleys, he looked upon the mountain tops, and when the mountains in darkness disappeared, fixed his gaze upon the stars.

In his brain were the blessed memories of the day and in his heart were mingled the dawn and dusk of life.

He was not afraid; he was cheerful every moment. The laughing nymphs of day did not desert him. They remained that they might clasp the hands and greet with smiles the veiled and silent sisters of the night. And when they did come, Walt Whitman stretched his hand to them. On one side were the nymphs of day, and on the other the silent sisters of the night, and so, hand in hand, between smiles and tears, he reached his journey's end.

From the frontier of life, from the western wave-kissed shore, he sent us messages of content and hope, and these messages seem now like strains of music blown by the "Mystic Trumpeter" from Death's pale realm.

Today we give back to Mother Nature, to her clasp and kiss, one of the bravest, sweetest souls that ever lived in human clay.

Charitable as the air and generous as Nature, he was negligent of all except to do and say what be believed he should do and say.

And today I thank him, not only for you but for myself, and for all the brave words he has uttered. I thank him for all the great and splendid words he has said in favor of liberty, in favor of man and woman, in favor of motherhood, in favor of fathers, and I thank him for the brave words he has said of death.

He has lived, he has died, and death is less terrible than it was before. Thousands and millions will walk down in to the "dark valley of the shadow" holding Walt Whitman by the hand. Long after we are dead the brave words he has spoken will sound like trumpets to the dying.

And so I lay this little wreath upon this great man's tomb. I loved him living, and I love him still.


August Bebel

Address at the Reichstag (Berlin, Germany, January 13, 1898; translated by John Lauritsen)

August Ferdinand Bebel [1840–1913] was best known as an outspoken member of the German parliament (Reichstag) in the late nineteenth century, where he was one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party. In this speech, Bebel argues in favor of repealing Paragraph 175 of the German penal code—the law that criminalized homosexuality. It is widely believed to be the first political speech in favor of homosexual freedoms.

REPRESENTATIVES: UNDERSTANDABLE is the position of those who, deeply offended by certain distasteful aspects of our public and private life, endeavor to make the fullest use of the criminal code to remedy these evils and wipe them off the face of the earth. My friends and I are also prepared to second a large number of the provisions which Dr. Spahn and his colleagues have proposed in the draft before us, but by no means all. On the one hand, this draft goes too far from our standpoint, and on the other, not far enough. In particular, once reform has been accomplished in this area, we should have to consider whether there may not be still other comparable provisions of our penal code that have at least as much right and as much need to be revised as the paragraphs here proposed.

Gentlemen, the penal code exists to be enforced—that is to say, so that the authorities who have the primary responsibility for maintaining compliance with and respect for the law should be dutifully watchful for violations and act accordingly. But there are provisions of our penal code, some of them contained in the motion before us, where the authorities, although fully aware that these provisions are systematically violated by a great number of people, men as well as women, only in the rarest cases bother to call for action on the part of the prosecutor. Here I have particularly in mind the section with the provisions of Paragraph 175—it has to do with "unnatural fornication." It will be necessary, if the Commission is elected—and I do urge that one be, because in my opinion this bill cannot become law without the Commission's recommendation—that then the government of Prussia be specifically requested to remand to us certain material which the local Berlin vice squad has at its disposal, so that on the basis of an examination of the same, we may ask ourselves whether we can and should retain the section with the provisions of Paragraph 175, and, if we should, whether we should not have to expand them. I am informed by the best sources that the police of that city do not bring the names of men who commit offenses which Paragraph 175 makes punishable by imprisonment to the attention of the district attorney as soon as they have become aware of the fact, but rather add the names of the persons involved to the list of those who for the same reasons are already in their files.

(Hear! Hear! [from the Left])

The number of these persons is so great and reaches so far into all levels of society, that if the police here scrupulously carried out their duty, the Prussian State would immediately be compelled to build two new penitentiaries just to take care of those offenses against Paragraph 175 that are committed in Berlin alone.

(Commotion. Hear! Hear!)

That is not an exaggeration, Herr von Levetzow; it has to do with thousands of persons from all walks of life. But then it further raises the question of whether the provisions of Paragraph 175 should apply not only to men, but also to women who on their part commit the same offense. What is just in the case of one sex, is fair for the other. But gentlemen, I'll tell you this: if in this area the Berlin police did their duty all the way—I want to say a word about this—then there would be a scandal such as the world have never known, a scandal compared with which the Panama scandal, the Dreyfus scandal, the Lützow–Ledert and the Tausch-Normann scandals are pure child's play. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the offense punishable under this Paragraph is treated with such extraordinary laxity on the part of the police. Gentlemen, Paragraph 175 is part of the penal code, and because it is there, it must be enforced. However, if for whatever reasons this part of the criminal law cannot be enforced, or can be enforced only selectively, then the question arises whether this provision of the penal code can equitably be retained. I wish to venture that in this very session—perhaps some of the gentlemen may not yet have taken note of it—we have before us a printed petition signed by me personally, among others, and by a number of colleagues from other parties, and further by people from literary and academic circles, by jurists of the most illustrious standing, by psychologists and pathologists, by experts of the highest rank in this field. The petition, for reasons that understandably I don't wish to go into fully at this moment, advocated a revision of the penal code so as to repeal the relevant provisions of Paragraph 175.

The translator, John Lauritsen, has been a gay activist and writer since 1969. His Gay Liberation pages can be viewed athttp://paganpressbooks.com/GAYLIB.HTM


Anna Rueling

What interest does the women's movement have in solving the homosexual problem?(Berlin, Germany, October 8, 1904)

Dr. Anna Rueling [1880–1953] was a prominent German physician in the early twentieth century, and is widely considered to be the first lesbian activist. In this speech, delivered at Berlin's Prinz Albrecht Hotel, Rueling argues that the struggle for women's rights is one and the same with the struggle for homosexual freedoms.

LADIES AND Gentlemen,

The Women's Movement is an historico-cultural necessity.

Homosexuality is an historico-cultural necessity, and is an obvious and natural bridge between man and woman. Today this is an undisputed scientific fact about which ignorance and impatience cannot dispute. Many have asked how I came to this conclusion and have uttered the truth about historico-cultural and natural-historical concepts in the same breath, two things which on the surface seem to be opposite.

The interest to research the reason for this extended viewpoint is that one in general, when the matter concerns homosexuals, thinks only of male Urnings and overlooks how many female homosexuals there are. They are of course less discussed because they—I was just about to say "unfortunately"—have had no unjust cause to fight against such as penal code paragraphs which arise out of having false moral views.

No cruel justice menaces women nor does the penitentiary if they follow their natural instincts. But the mental pressure under which Urninds are is just as great, indeed even greater than the yoke which their male fellow-sufferers must bear. To the world which judges by outward appearances they are even more obvious than the female Urning. Only too often they are overwhelmed by people's moralized misunderstandings.

In our total social life, however, Uranian women are at least just as important as their male counterparts because they influence our lives in many ways, even if they are not discussed. If one would just observe, one would soon come to the conclusion that homosexuality and the Women's Movement do not stand opposed to each other, but rather they aid each other reciprocally to gain rights and recognition, and to eliminate the injustice which condemns them on this earth.

The Homosexual Movement fights for the rights of all homosexuals, for men as for women. The Scientific Humanitarian Committee has distinguished itself by taking interest in this fight to the advantage of all other movements which should have, and has also participated in the interest of Urninds with such lively dedication.

The Women's Movement strives to have its long-despised rights recognized. It fights, namely, for as much independence as possible and for a just and equal standing of women with men, married or unmarried. These latter strivings are especially important because firstly, of the condition of our present economical state, and secondly, because a great number of women will remain unmarried due to a statistical nominal surplus of women in the population of our fatherland. These women are forced, when a sufficient means of earning money is not at their disposal away from the home—which is only the case of approximately 10%—to take up the fight for life and win their bread by any means available.


Excerpted from Great Speeches on Gay Rights by James Daley. Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Meet the Author

James Daley is the editor of several Dover Thrift editions, including The World's Greatest Short Stories, Classic Crime Stories, Favorite Christmas Poems, Great Speeches by African Americans, and Great Writers on the Art of Fiction.

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Great Speeches on Gay Rights 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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goodbye...... :,(