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social sciences

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Kight, Morris (1919-2003)  
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Kight was a firm believer in the importance of media attention, and he relished the spotlight, which is exactly where he put himself in 1970, only a few months after the Barney's Beanery demonstrations. GLF member Don Jackson had proposed that some two hundred gay men and lesbians should move to the tiny community of Alpine County, California, register to vote, and then take control of the local government.

Jackson's plan was to proceed quietly, but that was not Kight's style. In short order he and fellow GLF member Don Kilhefner were calling press conferences to announce the new "gay Mecca." The story received nationwide coverage but also drew a lot of hostility, and the plan never went forward. Kight's heavy-handed tactics caused a rift between him and some other leaders in the gay rights movement, but he never stopped working in the way that he thought best.

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Another of Kight's early projects was the organization of Christopher Street West, a march held in Los Angeles on June 28, 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York. Los Angeles Police Commission officials attempted to block the event by denying a permit unless the organizers put up the exorbitant sum of 1.5 million dollars in security bonds. The Reverend Perry sought the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, which won a court order that allowed the parade to proceed and eliminated the onerous costs. Christopher Street West has evolved into one of the country's largest pride parades. Kight was a frequent participant over the years, last marching in Christopher Street West in 1999.

Kight was also instrumental in establishing the Gay Community Services Center (later renamed the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center), which opened its doors in October 1971. The center was registered as a non-profit corporation, allowing donors to receive tax deductions for their contributions and permitting the center to apply for government grants. From distinctly modest beginnings it has grown to be the largest gay and lesbian services center in the world, offering a wide range of legal, medical, and social services. In his final years Kight cited the founding of the center as one of the achievements of which he was proudest.

In founding the Gay Community Services Center Kight was working within the system; nevertheless, his leftist politics and his occasionally outrageous tactics struck some in the glbtq rights movement as too radical and potentially detrimental to the goal of gaining acceptance for glbtq people in the wider society. One person holding this opinion was David Goodstein, who bought the gay newspaper The Advocate in 1975 and immediately began to transform it into a slick magazine. One of his first moves was to ban reporting on people whose activities he considered deleterious to the cause. Kight was chief among them.

Goodstein took things a step further, sending young reporter Randy Shilts to do an "exposé" on Kight. Shilts found no basis for a negative article on Kight, refused to write such a piece, and eventually left the magazine. Several years later Goodstein attempted to repair the breach by inviting Kight to participate in the Advocate Experience, a confrontational consciousness-raising group that he sponsored. Kight declined, saying, "I don't think I'd care to join a cult."

Kight never flagged in his efforts to empower glbtq people. In 1975 he founded the Stonewall Democratic Club to give glbtq people a stronger voice in politics.

Kight also spearheaded the boycott of the Coors Brewing Company to protest its discriminatory employment policies. After the company dropped the offensive practices and began donating money to glbtq organizations to lure back customers, Kight was among those who called for keeping the boycott in place because the Coors family's foundations continued to make major contributions to right-wing organizations inimical to glbtq rights.

When California State Senator John Briggs proposed an amendment to ban homosexual teachers from the public schools in 1978, Kight was one of many to join the fight against it. In the end the measure, opposed by a wide variety of groups, went down to a solid defeat, giving the young movement for equality a rare victory at the polls.

In the early 1980s Kight was appointed a member of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, on which he served for twenty years, retiring in 2002. Among the projects he implemented during his tenure was the Crossroads Employment Agency, the first specifically created to assist gay men and lesbians.

Kight remained an active participant in the glbtq rights movement until the very end of his long life. On his eighty-third birthday in 2002 he appeared before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to call for better services for people with HIV/AIDS. Another of his final projects was to have a corner in West Hollywood designated the Matthew Shepard Memorial Triangle in honor of the gay college student who was the victim of a savage homophobic murder.

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