Forty years ago, Christopher Street West, which oversees this weekend's L.A. Gay Pride Parade, was co-founded by the late gay rights pioneer Morris Kight, who also started up the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles in 1969 and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center in 1971 — back then, it was known as the Gay Community Services Center.
We asked Miki Jackson, a close friend and colleague of Kight's, who met him when she was a teenager in the 1960s, about what he stood for as a person, his proudest achievement, and a funny story about a man who leaned on his sense of humor to get him and other gay folks through some very rough-and-tumble times in L.A.
Born in 1919 in Comanche County, Texas, Kight arrived in Los Angeles in 1958 when he was almost 40. He had been working for social justice causes since the early 1940s, and suddenly he found himself, like many other gays and lesbians in L.A., dealing with the brutal ways of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“He focused his work on GLBT people,” says Jackson, “but he was a dedicated civil rights proponent and had long and deep ties with that movement. Peace. Non-violence. He was a doctrinaire Gandhian pacifist. He had taken a personal oath of poverty — and lived on very little money.”
In the end, says Jackson, Kight wanted people “to live an open and free life without fear of persecution.”
To make that happen, Kight was relentlessly organizing and protesting and winning all sorts of battles. Yet his proudest achievement, says Jackson, was the founding of the Gay Community Services Center, later to be known as the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
“It pained him when 'Community Services' was taken from the name,” says Jackson. “He thought it signaled hubris and an emphasis on a corporate-like culture and money.”
Jackson met Kight in the late-1960s at an anti-war rally at MacArthur Park. She soon worked closely with him, and remembered the time when Kight had opened the Center in 1971 — a time when gays and lesbians were still extremely cautious about living openly gay lives.
“The Center was first housed in two, and finally three, ramshackle Queen Ann buildings on Wilshire Boulevard,” says Jackson. “Right after the opening, Morris was standing on the rickety front porch of the main building under the home made-looking sign — “Gay Community Services Center” — with several of us. One man said, “Morris, you are going to get us all killed with that sign.” Morris looked at him and said in a very soft voice, “Well, dear, then don't stand under the sign.””
Unquestionably one of the most important and effective gay rights figures in the United States, Kight passed away in 2003.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.