Who was Adolf Brand?

Liz Highleyman | November 17, 2006

Because his political views are perceived as inimical to those of the contemporary LGBT movement, Adolf Brand – who, at the turn of the 20th century, started the first-ever homophile journal and the second homosexual/bisexual organization – remains less well known than his contemporary, Magnus Hirschfeld.

Brand, the son of a craftsman, was born in Berlin in 1874. After completing his education, he had a brief career as a teacher, but soon started a publishing company. In 1896, he founded Der Eigene, variously translated as "The Self-Owner" or "The Special One." Originating as an individualist anarchist publication, it soon became the first magazine to celebrate love between men.

Brand was an early member of Hirschfeld's Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first-ever homosexual rights group, founded in 1897. While the two men's underlying ideologies differed dramatically they shared the goal of repealing Paragraph 175 – the German statute that outlawed homosexual behavior – Brand opposed Hirschfeld's medical view of homosexuality and decried the conception of homosexual men as a "third sex," contending that love for men was not a feminine trait, but rather the pinnacle of masculinity.

In 1903, Brand, Benedict Friedlander, and Wilhelm Jansen broke away from Hirschfeld's group and formed the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (Society of Self-Owners or the Special Ones). The GdE promoted masculine culture, celebrated youthful male beauty, and encouraged boys to pursue "friend-love," nudism, and wholesome outdoor activities. The group also advocated relationships among men and adolescent boys akin to those of ancient Greece. Brand and Friedlander – both of whom married women – did not advocate exclusive homosexuality, but rather believed men were essentially bisexual.

The GdE was mostly inactive during World War I, during which time Brand served in the army and married a nurse, Elise Behrendt. While the homophile movement flourished during the post-war Weimar era of the early 1920s, Brand recognized the danger of encroaching fascism. Though the GdE's views of Aryan hyper-masculinity and homosociality had some parallels with the Nazi ideology, Brand wrote in 1931 that the Nazis "already had the hangman's rope in their pockets." Indeed, shortly after Hitler came to power in early 1933, the Fuhrer banned homosexual organizations, ordered the closure of gay bars, and halted the sale of homophile publications.

Brand's home and publishing house were raided, and his journals, books, and photographs were seized. Though Brand's homosexual inclinations were well-known, he was never arrested by the Nazis, perhaps because he was married to a woman and was neither Jewish nor a leftist. But he was financially ruined and demoralized; he sold his apartment and moved with his wife to a single room, where they perished in an Allied aerial bombing in 1945.

Today's mainstream LGBT movement has by and large adopted Hirschfeld's views – embracing a biological conception of homosexuality and condemning pederasty and extramarital bisexuality – and Brand and the GdE have been discredited. Some gay advocates have characterized Brand as anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynist, but his views are not so easily pigeonholed. He was equally hostile to Judaism and Christianity, due to religious condemnation of male love. Though he viewed women as intellectually inferior, he opposed their sexual exploitation and advocated their right to control their own bodies. Though sometimes labeled "right-wing," Brand is perhaps more accurately characterized as libertarian, as exemplified by his statement that "the right of self-determination over body and soul is the most important basis of all freedom."

For further reading:

  • Oosterhuis, Harry (ed.). 1991. Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: The Youth Movement, the Gay Movement, and Male Bonding Before Hitler's Rise (Haworth).
  • Blasius, Mark, and Shane Phelan (eds.). 1997. We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian Politics (Routledge).

    Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics.

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