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Kight, Morris (1919-2003)  
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Activist Morris Kight was a determined and courageous--if sometimes eccentric--fighter for glbtq rights. He worked vigorously for decades in the struggle for equality.

Morris Kight was born in Comanche County in the heart of Texas on November 19, 1919. He grew up on the family farm. Kight recognized his sexual orientation as a youngster. He stated in a 1994 interview that he began exploring his sexuality while in high school and that he was "happy to say that [he] didn't have a trace of guilt feeling about that."

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Kight went on to study at Texas Christian University, from which he graduated in 1941. During these years in Fort Worth he was, in his own words, "somewhat active as a gay person," although the social scene for gay men was extremely limited. He recalled "occasional gatherings" at people's homes. Discretion was essential because of the oppressive legal and social situation for gay men.

After graduation Kight moved to New Mexico. There he discovered "underground gay communities" in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. At the time, he recalled, Albuquerque had several gay bars to which police generally turned a blind eye. Kight described the gay scene in 1940s and 1950s New Mexico as "furtive"--necessarily so since men convicted under the state's sodomy law faced a prison term.

Kight married in 1950. The union, which lasted until 1955, produced two daughters. Once Kight became a gay rights activist he avoided mentioning his marriage to any but a few of his closest friends, apparently for fear that his credibility as a spokesman for gay rights would be diminished.

Kight moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He had worked with a theater group in Albuquerque in the early 1950s but was generally more interested in being a social activist than in earning a salary. Nevertheless, he needed some source of income. For four years he had a part-time job as a novelty vendor at Dodger Stadium during baseball games.

He also began holding semi-annual "garage sales" at which he sold antiques picked up on the cheap at thrift shops. In time, dealers and well-to-do buyers, including Liberace, became regular attenders of his sales.

In Los Angeles Kight found a much more vibrant gay community than those he had known in Texas or New Mexico. Kight became involved, opening his house for meetings to foster gay identity and pride, and helping arrested gay men secure lawyers so that they could get out of jail.

As the war in Vietnam escalated, Kight, a Ghandian pacifist, devoted an increasing amount of time to protests against it. He first became well known not for championing glbtq rights but for the founding in 1967 of the Dow Action Committee, an anti-war group protesting the chemical company's production of Agent Orange. For his efforts he was vilified as a Communist sympathizer, but he persisted. He encouraged gay men and lesbians to join him in the cause but met with a mixed response. Many were leery of the strong presence of Socialists in the organization, but others worked with Kight in demonstrations, sit-ins, leafleting campaigns, and other forms of non-violent actions.

To this point Kight, though a fixture in the underground gay community in Los Angeles, had not joined more visible homophile groups such as the Mattachine Society, which he considered elitist. In the wake of Stonewall, however, he became one of the founders of the Los Angeles branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in December 1969.

One of the Los Angeles GLF's first activities was a protest against a West Hollywood chili parlor called Barney's Beanery, which had a sign that read "Fagots [sic] Stay Out." Led by Kight and the Reverend Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church, gay men and lesbians demonstrated outside the restaurant, demanding removal of the offensive sign.

When the owner, who had in fact never denied anyone service, refused to take down the sign--and indeed added more--Kight and other protesters began coming in, ordering a single item, and remaining for hours. Since the owner was losing money, he repeatedly called the Sheriff's Office to try to evict the protesters. After three months the owner relented and took down the signs, handing them over to Kight and others.

The victory was short-lived. Once the protesters and the news media had departed, the owner replaced the sign. It only came down for good in 1984 when Valerie Terrigno, the first lesbian mayor of West Hollywood, removed it herself as soon as the city council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance.

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Top: A portrait of Morris Kight by Stathis Orphanos.
Above: A sign from a West Hollywood restaurant that inspired a protest led by Morris Kight and Rev. Troy Perry.

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