Germans, Jews, and Sex

In the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision of 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry, marking a significant victory in the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians. Nevertheless, demands for the full-equality of sexual minorities remain bitterly contested, both in the courts and in society, in the U.S. and across the globe. As this long struggle continues, it is an opportune moment to reconsider the key role that German-Jewish reformers played in advancing an understanding of human sexuality that has informed the gay and transgender rights movements in important ways.

Nearly a century ago in Weimar-era Berlin, a group of physicians and psychologists around the Jewish physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, many of them also Jewish, fought to end the criminalization of homosexuality in Germany with arguments based on a study of human sexuality that was empirical and descriptive rather than normative. Their motto was inscribed above the door of Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin: Per Scientiam ad Justitiam — “Through Science to Justice."  At the same time, Jewish feminists played a major role in movements for birth control, abortion access, and women’s sexual agency. Legendary author and sex-therapist Ruth Westheimer joins Atina Grossmann (Cooper Union), author of "Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920-1950," and Robert Beachy, author of "Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity," for a discussion of how these pioneering figures influenced subsequent and contemporary movements for gay and transgender rights.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017 - 6:30pm



Center for Jewish History
15 W. 16th St.
New York City, NY 10011