The Pro-Sodomy Movement in America

Ryan Sorba. The Born Gay Hoax. 2007. 

“The positive goal…is the revival of Hellenic chivalry and its recognition by society. By chivalric love we mean in particular close friendships between youths and even more particularly the bonds between men of unequal ages.” (Adolf Brand, Activist)

Shortly after Ulrichs’s death in 1895, the pro-sodomy movement in Germany split into two separate and opposed factions. One faction followed Ulrichs’s successor Magnus Hirschfield, the other a young anarchist, Adolf Brand. What divided the movement was gender identity. Hirschfield and his followers embraced an effeminate identity, as in the tradition of Ulrichs, while Brand and his followers perceived themselves as hyper-masculine, as in the Greek tradition.

In 1897, Magnus Hirschfield formed the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (SHC). The SHC was dedicated to two Ulrichsian goals. The first was to overturn paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code which criminalized sodomy, and the second was to work to legitimize acts of sodomy within the German culture. Although Hirschfield was originally committed to Ulrichs’s “third-gender” theory of an inborn “Uranian” condition, he later abandoned it. Hirschfield believed persons experiencing same-sex attractions to be the sexual equivalent of handicapped, due to a hormonal imbalance. He also considered same-sex attraction to be curable, through hormone treatment. The acknowledgement of a curable same-sex attraction undoubtedly arose after Hirschfield observed the general sexual confusion of patients with same-sex attraction at his Institute for Sex Research in Berlin, which was the predecessor to Alfred Kinsey’s Institute for Sex Research in the U.S., founded in 1947.

Although Hirschfield’s “fem” faction dominated the early pro-sodomy movement in Germany, other activists, such as Adolf Brand and his followers, perceived themselves as fully masculine and despised everything effeminate. Soon, these apposing activists formed their own separate organization.

On May 1, 1902, three pederasts, Adolf Brand, Wihelm Jansen, and Benedict Friedlander formed “The Community of the Special” (CS). The CS fashioned themselves as a modern incarnation of the warrior cults of ancient Greece, Sparta, Thebes, and Crete. Members of the CS were ultra-masculine, male supremacists and pederastic (devoted to man/boy sex). Brand once wrote that he wanted men who “thirst for a revival of Greek times and Hellenic standards of beauty after centuries of Christian Barbarism.” The CS wanted German society to revert to pagan values: “The positive goal…is the revival of Hellenic chivalry and its recognition by society. By chivalric love we mean in particular close friendships between youths and even more particularly the bonds between men of unequal ages.”

Adolf Brand published the first pro-sodomy magazine in Germany, Der Eigene (“The Special”). In 1903, Brand was briefly jailed as a child pornographer for including pictures of nude boys in his magazine. Nevertheless, Der Eigene remained in publication until 1931, peaking at over 150,000 subscriptions during the years of the Weimer Republic. In addition to Der Eigene, Brand published a satirical journal entitled Die Tante (“The Fairy” or “The Auntie”) which often ridiculed the effeminate Hirschfield and his followers.

As the rift between the hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine factions of the pro-sodomy movement widened, and as the revival of pagan Hellenic values began to transform German society, the hyper-masculine wing led by Brand became a serious political force. In 1919, Hans Kahnert along with other supporters of the hyper-masculine faction founded the “Society for Human Rights” (SHR). The “butches” “SHR” quickly outgrew the “fems” “SHC” and became the largest pro-sodomy organization in Germany during the 1920’s.

The first pro-sodomy organization in the United States was an American chapter of Hans Kanhert’s German-based “Society for Human Rights” (SHR). The American SHR was founded on December 10, 1924 in Chicago by the German-American, Henry Gerber (1892-1972). Gerber served with the U.S. occupation forces in Germany from 1920-23. While overseas, Gerber became involved with the German SHR. When Gerber returned to America, he legally chartered an SHR chapter together with a small group of “revolutionaries,” without revealing its purpose to the state. Soon, they began publishing a pro-sodomy journal called Friendship and Freedom,10 patterned after the German chapter’s publication of the same name.

In 1925, the organization collapsed when Henry Gerber, Vice President Al Menninger, and another member were arrested on charges of sexually abusing a boy.

All three were turned in by Menninger’s wife. The Chicago Examiner ran the story: “Strange Sex Cult Exposed” and spoke of strange doings in Menninger’s apartment. Menninger confessed, but Gerber claimed that the incident was a setup, saying that their arrests were “shades of the Holy Inquisition.”

Upon Gerber’s release from prison he continued his activism underground by writing under the pen-name “Parisex.” He also retained his ties to the German SHR and published several articles in their publication. Gerber resurfaced in 1934, when he joined the staff of a pro-sodomy literary magazine called Chanticleer. In Chanticleer, Gerber revealed himself as a militant socialist who regarded capitalism and Christianity as the twin pillars of ignorance and repression of “sexual freedom.” Despite Gerber’s work, his chapter of the SHR was only an aberration. The demand and leadership for a sustaining pro-sodomy organization in the United States would not emerge until 1948.

On August 10, 1948, at the tail end of an eighteen year stint as an American communist party leader, Henry (Harry) Hay (1912-2002) who is regarded as the “founder of the modern ‘gay’ rights movement” began to organize a group that would eventually come to be known as the Mattachine Society. Although the society did not officially receive its name until the spring of 1951, it was seen from the beginning as a vehicle to destroy social restraints against sodomy in American culture.

At the age of fourteen, Henry Hay, like Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, was sexually abused by an older man (in this case, a man about 25 years old). Later in life, Hay defined himself as a neo-pagan and participated in the occultic rituals at the “Los Angeles lodge of the Order of the Eastern Temple (O.T.O.), Aleister Crowley’s notorious anti-Christian spiritual group.” Hay also provided musical accompaniment to ceremonies performed by the “lesbian high priestess.” He also founded a New Age group called “Radical Faeries,” which met in an asram in the high desert of Arizona to offer invocations to pagan spirits. Hay also believed pederasty (man/boy sex) to be an essential part of the pro-sodomy movement in America and openly endorsed the “North American Man/Boy Love Association.”

Henry Hay was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’s American counterpart in several ways. Both men launched enduring social movements in their respective cultures. The avowed purpose of each was to undermine the Judeo-Christian moral consensus in respect to acts of sodomy, and both had been sexually abused at a young age. Unlike Ulrichs, however, Hay became increasingly militant as time went on. Until in the 1980’s he participated in California’s notoriously violent “ACT-UP” (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) demonstrations. Though Hay was in his 70’s and is not directly linked with any of the property destruction associated with ACT-UP, his presence validated the terrorist tactics of the group.

Henry Hay’s Mattachine Society spawned large-scale pro-sodomy political and social activism that soon outgrew both his expectations and control. Hay’s highly motivated activists operated in groups designed like communist cells, each a “secret fraternity” bound by a common vice. As Hay stated in a later interview, “[we wanted to] keep them underground and separated so that no one group could ever know who all the other members were.” Slowly at first, from innumerable obscure sources came theories, public statements, and actions in support of the social acceptance of “homosexuality.” And as the power of the pro-sodomy political lobby grew, so did the ugliness of its demands and its methods.