85 YEARS ON, A PIONEERING LGBTQ RESEARCHER’S IDEAS ABOUT SEXUALITY TAKE ON NEW MEANING

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6/3/22

Historians are rediscovering one of the most important LGBTQ activists of the early 20th Century — an Asian Canadian named Li Shiu Tong. You probably don’t know the name, but he was at the center of the first wave of gay politics. Much has been written about Li’s older boyfriend, Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was a closeted German doctor and sexologist who became famous in the 1930s as a defender of gay people. In books on Hirschfeld, Li is usually just a footnote. But as I found in my research, Li was a sexologist and activist in his own right. And in my view, his ideas about sexuality speak to our moment better than Hirschfeld’s. When Li died in Vancouver in 1993, his unpublished manuscript about sexuality was thrown in the trash. Luckily, it was rescued by a curious neighbor and eventually ended up in an archive. Since then, only a handful of people, myself included, have read it. In its pages is a theory of LGBTQ people as the majority that would resonate with a lot of young people today.

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