Morris Kight was born into a world of Jim Crow, KKK, and prohibition. He witnessed women march to demand their right to vote and survived a time when there was no such thing as “gay” much less Gay Rights. People like Kight, homosexuals, were commonly referred to as deviants, perverts, misfits and much worse. He left the harsh world of east Texas and succeeded in a time and place where the nicest thing that could be said about a homosexual was absolutely nothing.
In 1957, Kight threw away the conventional life, moved to Los Angeles and became a full-time activist. During the anti-Vietnam War movement, Kight was prominent in the creation and effectiveness of the Dow Action Committee which forced the Dow Chemical Company to stop producing napalm and was the first successful corporate boycott. During this time, Kight formulated underground social services for gay men in crisis and by 1963 his Bunker Hill bungalow became known as the “clap shack.” These services were the earliest seeds for what later became the Gay Community Services Center (now fondly known as the LA Gay and Lesbian Center).
I have done my due-diligence in researching Morris Kight and it has been a wonderful journey. In addition to the research, I have done close to 100 interviews. Some people I spoke with needed to vent, others gushed. A few people refused to speak to me at all. The grand panjandrum of gay liberation is a complicated character.
He deserved a good reputation for his steadfast commitment to non-violent social change which he tarnished with endless self-promotion. Because of his flawed character his contributions could easily have been marginalized from the bigger gay history, which continues to be at risk for its own marginalization. Kight’s legacy was the most important thing to him. In my opinion, the legacy holds up without his constant buoying it up. Despite the fall-out from his out-of-control ego, his accomplishments are solid. In the end, Kight’s biggest ruse may be that his story really is as interesting as he was trying to tell us.
I am offering up few slices of the Kight story prior to publication, just a taste. Kight did not please all the people, ever. This book will not please all the people either.
For me, the Gay Liberation Front (1969-1971) is a crucial time for gay liberation. The demonstrations, ‘zaps’ as they were called, were inventive, dangerous, and effective. The GLF collided, and not always in harmony, with every other radical movement of the day (the Black Panthers, the women’s movement, anti-war, farm worker’s labor movement, and the nascent ecology movement) as well as every law enforcement agency from the FBI to the local Sheriffs. It is an unprecedented and pivotal time in history when the GLF in Los Angeles and the Gay Activists Alliance in New York introduced mainstream America to openly homosexuals.