Morris Kight

Morris Kight
Photo by Henning Von Berg, 2002

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Morris Kight: Gay Pride and Resistance

Morris Kight: Gay Pride and Resistance:   Let’s Have A Parade!        

Gay Pride and Resistance

🌈      🌈       🌈                                               Let’s Have A Parade!                         🌈        🌈       🌈

As Morris Kight’s biographer, I was asked a few different times for my thoughts, or more accurately, what I thought would be Morris Kight’s thoughts about Gay Pride acceding to allow its parade become a Resist march. I was uncomfortable giving my thoughts on the topic yet speaking on behalf of Morris, I’m fairly confident.

First of all, I’m glad that a resolution was reached. The festival will be in the usual place with the usual suspects and a Resist march will cover Hollywood and into West Hollywood.

I’m as anxious as anyone to resist the current administration.

When Morris shouted “Let’s have a parade” it was meant to be a joyous celebration. Gay Pride Parade was always about a celebration of being gay, all things gay, and all things about to be gay. The celebration in and of itself was the protest.

The most important thing to Kight and other gay leaders at the time was that it be non-violent. In the early 1970s, non-violence was a challenge for the nascent movement. In fact, the first gay parade was a commemoration of a violent event. The watershed Stonewall Inn rebellion in 1969 by all accounts was violent. Now, the commemoration of the event has played a vital role in the survival of a non-violent liberation movement.

When closets doors swung open and brave men and women hit the streets in all their outrageous gayness, the world was forever changed. We mustn’t forget the magnitude of the very act to march down the street proclaiming yourself to be something that could, at that time, have you committed to a sanatorium (or far worse), it could lead to professional suicide and family alienation. Yet, they marched loud and proud. As a result, the world was different the next day. The world was and continues to be a much better place for gays being gay.

From a 2006 article in American Sociological Review regarding the first Los Angeles parade, it is noted “... The first commemoration of Stonewall was gay liberation’s biggest and most successful protest event.” 

Gay Pride is an affirmative. It is not about opposition. It is an optimistic message of inclusiveness, action and empowerment. It’s not about hope. It’s about actualities.

With that in mind, Morris Kight would’ve been saddened to see the message of pride usurped by a message of opposition. He was very clear at different times that he didn’t want gay liberation to be filtered down or derailed by singular causes. Even though he tried to align early liberation with the anti-war movement (with a certain amount of success), the gay movement proved itself to be far more diverse and divisive. And yet, year after year, pride prevailed.

We resist. We will resist every day until that thing is removed from the highest office in the land. Then, given who is waiting to come out of the shade and sit in the oval, there will be a need for opposition. If you can imagine Anita Bryant having John Briggs’ bastard child on steroids, that’s Mike Pence. Once the current pile of power is swept away and the second-in-command steps into place, gays, women, and every marginalized group in America will be unsafe. Realistically, it is probably a necessary walk on hot coals in order to remove what is already in office. Don’t worry so much about people who’ve already marched in parades. Morris Kight would’ve worried about young people who are figuring out who they are, how to become who they are meant to be, and live openly and safely. Once Pence sits in the oval office, the world will become a hostile place for them. Resisting the current administration will not help those young people find the fortitude they’ll need. Marching down the street in all the bright and blatant gayness one can muster, openly claiming pride, will assure young people that, indeed, there is room for them, there are places they can safely be who they genuinely are meant to be.

Always the strategist, Morris Kight would encourage the party to continue. Not a political party, a loud gay party that shoots rainbows from rooftops and sings Judy Garland tunes off-key. Morris Kight would not allow any toxic power to impede a gay celebration. Outrageous spectacles freed people and will continue to hold a light for next generations.

Pride is more than rainbows and flags. Liberation means more than the right to marry and share property. The whole movement was begun and continues because of young people. There will always be young people needing examples of gay power, gay pride no matter who sits in the oval office.

With all that said, let your multi-colored freak flags fly. In memory of Morris Kight- be loud, be bright, and don’t ever be silent.







Morris Kight video post #2



In 1993, Morris Kight spoke with Peter Nardi and David Sanders for their book (written with Judd Marmor) Growing Up Before Stonewall (Routledge, 1994). Here are few snippets, the entire interview is available in their book. Morris talked about the "bad old days," as he called them. He discussed the historical uselessness of psychiatry to homosexuals, he also discussed sex and guilt.

In a rare vulnerable moment, he talks about his own, very brief, experience with guilt.

http://vimeo.com/91381577





Monday, August 24, 2015

The Maker of this Page

The maker of this page is busy writing the complete Morris Kight biography. Publishers are being sought as well as interest from ancillary markets. It has become an important work, historical in its context and personal in the revealing of Morris Kight. That's the point of a good biography. It's informative and entertaining. Anyone who knew Morris will tell you that he was entertaining.  Looking forward and seeking support, please direct all interest to Mary Ann Cherry at mcherry@pacbell.net. Just put "Morris Kight" in the subject header and I'll read it promptly.





1968, Morris with Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden while working on the Dow Action Committee
(Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)

Joseph Hansen, Morris, 1970, on the picket line at Barnes Beanery (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)

Morris center, first Gay Pride Parade, Hollywood Blvd, 1970 (LA Free Press)
1973, NYC, Bette Midler, Morris Kight, Gay Pride Weekend (New York Times)






Rev. Troy Perry and Morris, New Orleans.
1973, Immediately after that fun and celebratory weekend in New York's Greenwich Village, Morris was summoned to New Orleans to help respond to a fire bombing of a gay bar that killed thirty-two people, the largest gay mass murder in U.S history. (Los Angeles Times, LAPL Photo Archive)











 Morris Kight being interviewed by a young Regis Philbin, 1972 (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)
 1979, Kight at a demonstration in downtown Los Angeles regarding recognition of gay marriage, Adams and Sullivan a landmark case. (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archive) 


Kight and LA Mayor Tom Bradley, 1972, the first meeting of gay community and LA City Officials (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)



1975, Morris, Gerry Parker, State Assembly Willie Brown at California Democratic Council Convention (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)

Kight with Harvey Milk and Christopher S. Dogg, Los Angeles 1979  (Photo by Elmer Wilhelm)

1980 with Gore Vidal in Kight's backyard in Hollywood (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)

With Julie Harris in 1985 (Pat Rocco Photos at ONE Archives)





Portrait of Morris Kight by Don Bachardy, 1992



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Coors Boycott, 1998


This is a rather long video, over an hour, and well-worth the effort for those who are interested. Morris vehemently opposed the Coors Brewing Co and took great umbrage with the Coors family support of anti-gay and lesbian legislation and causes.

Morris was almost 80 years old when this video was shot. He never lacked for enthusiasm in his opposition to Coors, That is obvious in this video. But the underlying story, what was really happening here (and it dramatically heightens at around 01:07:03 through 01:10:00) was the 'new guard,' the 'new leadership' of the gay community standing ground against the old, the founders, the shoulders on which they once stood. It was a new generation with different values.

For a feisty old man, privately Morris was a bit crushed by this.




Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Al Martinez


This week we say goodbye to a number of Kight friends and colleagues. Al Martinez, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote about Morris many times over the years. He once described Morris as a "an odd little man with a pear shaped body," which was as accurate a description as one can get. But Mr. Martinez always got better.

With due respect and pending permission from the LA Times, I reprint Al Martinez's final words about Morris. Rest in peace, good man. You will be remembered fondly.



No Sad Songs for Him
By: Al Martinez 
Morris Kight is dead, but you won't find me crying into my martini. Here was a man, to paraphrase Zola, who lived out loud, filling much of his 83 years with commitment, a fighter and teacher who led every parade he organized and was at the forefront of every battle he fought. Not a bad legacy to leave behind.
Kight was the quintessential gay activist going back to a time when that wasn't a terrific thing to be. He stood in the open like a soldier under fire, calling for the troops to follow, leading the way. I don't have a lot of heroes, but Kight, a funny little man with an affected manner of speech, was one of them.
His life was a monument to high conscience.
I remember him best bustling about and commanding attention, a guy in control of his commitment to elevate and celebrate gays and lesbians everywhere. But I also remember talking to him in the hospital two weeks before he died when his fire was damped to a whisper, thinking the man still had authority in his voice.
Kight had all kinds of firsts to his credit, but you can boil them all down to a belief in human rights and a willingness to stand up for them. He marched for peace and disarmament too, because he knew they were right, but his main cause was to free gay people from the chains of hatred.
He was co-founder of what is now the Gay & Lesbian Center and an organizer in 1970 of the West Coast's first gay parade, which became a declaration of pride and freedom for L.A.'s gay population. It's a model for the nation, if not the entire world.
I met Kight years ago when he put me up for a humanities award given by the L.A. County Human Relations Commission. He'd been a member of the commission then for 20 years and retired just last year. I remember thinking how theatrical he seemed, how his simplest comment was accompanied by a grand flourish, as though he were performing before a crowd.
He telephoned many times after our first meeting, mostly to talk about what was going on in his life, and I began to get the uneasy feeling that he was trying to use me as an instrument to publicize his grandeur. I was right and I was wrong.
Looking back, I think Kight could have been sensing that the end was near and wanted to be certain that he would be remembered not just for his own personal glory but also as a way of perpetuating what he had begun. And I began to understand how theatrics are an element of leadership, the ability to call attention to one's self as a focus of the message that must be heard.
Oddly, Kight seemed uneasy with the praise offered on the day he left the Human Relations Commission, at one point almost cutting off Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky, his most ardent supporter. He fidgeted and wanted to move on, to use what energy he had left for something better than the ritualization of the work he'd done in that one area of his life. He was thinking ahead.
What I recall most from the last commission meeting Kight attended was a comment by Yaroslovsky that Kight had emerged from an era when it was dangerous to be openly gay but was willing to risk his life for the benefit of a people who had been too long in the shadows. "When the history of civil liberties is written," Yaroslovsky said, "he'll be there."
Kight knew almost from the beginning what it was like to be the victim of hatred. While his father was understanding of his "gayness," his mother remained hostile toward him until she died. After her death, Kight told me in a voice strangely muted, he found notes she had written that burned with hatred toward homosexuals. "She'd have been happier," he said softly, "if she had loved me."
Many will attempt to define Morris Kight as the months and years pass. It won't be easy. Humans are complicated creatures and leaders even more complicated. He was, as we all are, a series of contradictions that eventually merged into a single life's goal. That goal was to galvanize a generation into believing in itself and, in effect, gathering the courage to believe in himself.
Great leaders do what they do partly, I think, to fill an emptiness in their own souls, and we all benefit from that effort.
You'll hear a lot of that at Kight's memorial next month. But what will remain as the years pass is the simple reality that he was a guy who stood in the face of fire, a portly figure in a wide-brimmed hat and with a funny way of speaking, who lived out loud and who died in peace. That legacy is safe. Play taps.

               


Permission pending from LA Times (reprinted from Jan 24, 2003, Calendar Section) at latimes.com/archives.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

More Morris Kight

A quick note about this new site that just came to our attention. Morris loved attention. He couldn't get enough of it and who are we to deny him more attention . . . that said . . .