Having declared three decades ago 'I'm sure we are going to get our freedom, I see it everywhere,' gay-rights pioneer Morris Kight died peacefully in his sleep this morning, ending a prolific career that achieved many of the civil rights he sought.
He was 83.
'Morris Kight can never be replaced, but will and must be remembered,' said fellow activist, longtime friend and contemporary Ivy Bottini. 'Our country and our nation has lost a voice of sanity and hospitality, not just for the lesbian and gay community, but for disenfranchised people everywhere.'
'Today marks the end of an era,' said Michael Weinstein, who heads the largest U.S. AIDS organization and whom Kight befriended in 1973. 'Morris not only inspired events and organizations, he inspired activists through his loving nature. He genuinely loved people, and that permeated everything he did.'
The longtime Los Angeles resident was born Nov. 19, 1919, in Comanche County, Texas. Kight graduated from Texas Christian University. He often cited Eleanor Roosevelt as an influence on his values and his activism. He came to prominence with the Dow Action Committee, protesting weapons manufacturing during the Vietnam War. In 1969, he and a handful launched the Gay Liberation Front—one of the first such efforts. In 1971, he co-founded the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, the first and largest such center in the world.
Rarely satisfied with all he had achieved, Kight also created some of the movement's most visible efforts, including:
— Los Angeles' gay pride march—the Christopher Street West Parade;
— The Morris Kight Collection, which archives thousands of artifacts chronicling the emergence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights;
— Stonewall Democratic Club in California politics.
Last year, after serving 20 years on the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, Morris retired from public service but continued to speak out on behalf of people in need. Most recently he spent his birthday as a witness before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors testifying for better AIDS services.
Though most strongly identified with the movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, Kight consistently allied his energies with many other progressive causes. He described himself as a laborite, a civil-rights advocate, a civil libertarian, and an advocate for all oppressed people.
Kight's tireless activism and political savvy made him a rare bridge between the gay grassroots and elected officials at local, state, and federal levels.
Kight foresaw the advances his work would lead to in a 1971 interview with The Advocate magazine: 'Frankly, I'm sure we are going to get our freedom. I see it everywhere: In the marketplace, in the stores, in the homes, in dealing with families, in the kind of attention we get from radio, television and the newspapers. Still, I realize we're not home yet. We have a long way to go. There are 1,750 arrests in L.A. each month. I weep for each of them. Everyone who's denied a job, I weep for. Everyone who is driven from their homes by a misunderstanding family, I have to offer my love to.'
Kight spent his final days at Carl Bean House in Los Angeles, a guest of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, one of the many agencies he nurtured and supported.
Donations in Kight's memory are being accepted by the non-profit ONE Institute and Archives, which will house and maintain the Morris Kight Collection, at 909 W. Adams Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90007.