Morris Kight Tribute (2003) 

Originally published on metroG.com

Activist Taught Inclusion and Tolerance


By Crusader, Staff Writer - metroG.Com
January 26, 2003

(Los Angeles) Morris Kight, often referred to as the father or grandfather of the modern gay liberation movement, died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning, January 19, at a Los Angeles hospice. He was 83.

 

There is no doubt that Morris was the major influence on my decision to devote my life to helping others and crusading for various causes.  Hence my name change from Andrew Exler to the one name Crusader in 1997.

 

Morris came into my life in 1980 when I was just a wet-behind-the-ears 19-year-old activist.  I had only been out of the closet for about one year.

 

On September 13, 1980, I took to a Disneyland dance floor with another male teenager, only to be physically ejected from the amusement park.  During a four-year uphill legal battle with Disney, Morris was a huge source of encouragement for me to continue the fight until I won the case in 1984.  While several gay activists (and even attorneys) were requesting that I drop the lawsuit, Morris was always on the sidelines cheering me on.

 

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed against Disney, Morris telephoned me in Orange County, where I was residing and working. At that time, his call was the equivalent of talking with a major Hollywood movie star. I knew he was the most famous gay activist alive, and I was in awe with him.

 

Morris and I immediately hit it off, so he invited me to a gathering at his home called "First Tuesday," where all the movers and shakers in the Los Angeles civil rights and gay communities would congregate.  Many organizations were represented at these meetings.  Since his home wasn't too far from Orange County, I frequently went to Los Angeles to visit and assist him with the various projects he was involved in.

 

Visiting with Morris provided me with much insight and an education that no college on the universe could have given me.  I felt truly enriched after each and every visit with him and his houseguests.

 

McCadden Place

 

In the 1980s, Morris was living in a modest house (with a loft) on McCadden Place in Hollywood.  It was next to a rundown apartment complex in a neighborhood that was a far cry from the upscale 9-room Anaheim house that I grew up in.  I always worried about parking my car in his neighborhood during my frequent visits with him and his friends.

 

His home was always a hub of activity, a "Who's Who" of the civil rights, political, and entertainment communities.  Frequent guests included then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley; civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred; AIDS Healthcare Foundation Chair Wallace Albertson (widow of actor Jack Albertson); Lea Belli (who was married to the late constitutional attorney Melvin Belli); and the late Anne Snyder, an author of young adult novels, including "Counter Play," a compelling story about a straight and gay high school football player.

 

“Simply Mahvelous”

 

As a longtime freelance journalist, I would often interview Morris about various topics for several publications, including the now-defunct Edge magazine, the Bottom Line magazine in Palm Springs, and for metroG.com.  Because he was never at a loss for words, he became my favorite subject to interview.

 

He always had something interesting to say, and had a very entertaining way of speaking, which is why I found it easy to listen to whatever it was he had to say. To this day, I can hear him in my head saying some of his well-known phrases, such as, "It was simply mahvelous" or "How are you, dear?"

 

One of his last public appearances was at the Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival on November 3 of last year. He was one of several grand marshals.

 

Morris often visited Palm Springs, bringing with him items from the Morris Kight Collection (also known as the McCadden Place Collection).  The collection includes many historical artifacts of importance to sexual minorities.  He also participated in events sponsored by gay veterans in the desert.

 

Include Everyone

 

Morris didn’t just crusade for lesbian and gay rights.  He often supported the rights of bisexuals and the transgender community, which for many years was a taboo topic for lesbian and gay activists, even in Los Angeles.  He would often tell me stories about his nongay causes, which included his efforts in the peace movement.  He often talked about pacifism.

 

Unlike some activists of our time, Morris is one of the few who believed in true equality for everyone, and as a result he was often at odds with others in the lesbian and gay community.

 

If I learned anything from hanging out with and interviewing this great activist, it is how important it is for the human race to be INCLUSIVE, not exclusive.  The more we separate ourselves from other people and causes, the more challenges we are going to face in the long haul in the fight for equality.

 

"No One Wore Him Down"

 

Best selling novelist Patricia Nell Warren met Morris in 1991 when she relocated to California.  When asked by metroG to describe Morris' greatest attribute, she said, "His energy, because it was that energy that drove his optimism and his refusal to give up, and all the different areas he operated in as an activist."

 

She said that even in the last years of his life, when he had major health challenges, he would bounce right back into his activist role because of his energy.

 

Warren told metroG that she visited Morris while he was a patient at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in early January. "He was incredibly energetic, considering where he was at, and he wanted to talk about politics and the state of the country; the state of the world," she said.

 

"It is so easy in this line of work [activism] to get burned out and lose your hope. It is easy for one to wear down, but no one ever wore Morris down."