How did the gay movement, which began as a sedate group of intellectuals, become what is arguably the most dynamic civil rights crusade in America? How did a deviant and marginalized fraction of society evolve into powerful, effective, and respected leaders? Activist Morris Kight, a sometimes ignored leader of the post-Stonewall gay rights movement, self-aggrandizing and egotistical in a room full of egos, always found the camera and a way to give gay rights a seat at the table of social reform. His style of organizing and activism showed the power of the “influencer” decades before social media brought millions together with a meme.
His work in the 1950s as a part of an underground network of gay ‘safe houses’ that provided bail, health care, and legal advice was based on his early Socialist beliefs. He turned his unique charisma and organizing skills to the 1960s anti-war movement before deciding to devote the rest of his life to the public fight for “Gay Liberation.” He fostered key relationships with fellow activists such as Harvey Milk, politicians, socialites, and gangsters. He had backroom deals with wealthy business owners and handshake agreements with power brokers. This led to a new quality of life for homosexuals, liberated homo youths and, eventually, led to the first generation of never-closeted Gays.
Kight helped organize the first gay pride parade in the country in 1970. He founded groups that lead seminal protests that resulted in: The American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality as a disease from its diagnostic manual, protecting civil rights for gay citizens in California, and reducing police violence against the gay community. And for every good thing he did, he took credit for more. He was a man who, with his many flaws, managed to alienate as many people as he brought together. His story brings to life his work as remembered by those who loved and loathed him. Mary Ann Cherry befriended Morris Kight in the last decade of his life. She, with Morris’ permission, began writing his biography: Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist: A Story of Gay Rights and Gay Wrongs (Process, 2020) Cherry is a Los Angeles based writer whose wide-ranging work includes, television and film producing as well as creating and maintaining the historical archives for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Morris Ardoin is author of STONE MOTEL – MEMOIRS OF A CAJUN BOY (2020, University Press of Mississippi). A communications practitioner, his work has appeared in regional, national, and international media. He divides his time between New York City and Cornwallville, New York, where he does most of his writing. His blog, Parenthetically Speaking, can be found at www.morrisardoin.com. Twitter: @morrisardoin
Morris Ardoin is author of STONE MOTEL: MEMOIRS OF A CAJUN BOY (University Press of Mississippi, 2020)