Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 3, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Gay activist Morris Kight: 50 years of struggle, 50 years of pride

Workers World exclusive interview

Morris Kight, born in Texas in 1919, is a leading gay-rights activist in Los Angeles. Since the 1940s he has dedicated his life to lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender liberation. He is also a peace activist who works on many other progressive struggles, including issues that affect the poor.

Kight was the founder of the Gay Liberation Front in 1968. He also organized the first Gay Pride march in Los Angeles in April 1971. The same year, he helped found the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center-the first in the United States. He is currently a board member of the Human Relations Commission in Los Angeles.

Workers World reporter Steven Ceci interviewed this pioneering gay activist in Los Angeles on June 15. The following are excerpts from Kight's remarks.

1969: 'We fought for gay rights'

I was the founder of the Gay Liberation Front here in Los Angeles in 1969. We fought for gay rights by means of militant actions such as demonstrations, rallies and civil disobedience.

What prompted me to launch the GLF was the different struggles of the time. There was the anti-war movement, the civil-rights movement and Black Power movement. As gay people we needed to launch a movement too-and the GLF was an instant success.

During that time the anti-war movement in Vietnam was big, and it was the training school for a lot of gay rights organizers. The anti-war movement taught us how to write leaflets, deal with the police, conduct meetings and other tasks.

I remember going to a demonstration against the Vietnam war in Oct. 17, 1969, at the Polo Grounds in which over 350,000 people came out. I was invited to speak as an openly gay man.

It wasn't till 1969 that the moment was ripe, so to speak, to launch a real mass grassroots organization to fight for gay rights.

Police brutality: 'It's obvious we need to organize'

These [recent police raids on gay bars] are similar to the raids that took place in past decades. We organized many demonstrations in the past around this type of harassment.

It is obvious that we need to organize and keep vigilant when it comes to police harassment.

Your organization [National People's Campaign's Emergency Mobilization to Stop Anti-Gay Police Violence] that helped organize the recent rally against the bar raids in Silverlake and the town hall meeting at Micheltorena School all culminated in pushing the homophobic police back.

'I've always been a supporter of labor'

I've always been a supporter of labor, as far back as the 1940s when I helped organize in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union. I always advocated for labor and the gay movement to work closely.

We have a common enemy, which is right-wing corporations that want to bust unions and attack gay, lesbian, bi and trans rights.

A great example of labor and the gay movement working together was the Coors boycott. The boycott was started in 1977 by Howard Wallace who helped unite the gay community and labor. The Coors company is anti-union and has always funded right-wing groups that are against lesbian, gay, bi, and trans rights.

There are gay auto workers, coal workers, and the list goes on and on. We need to embrace and encompass everybody into the movement.

'Put mass pressure on Clinton'

I'm embarrassed and ashamed of Clinton's stand on same-sex marriage and gays in the military. I remember a couple of years ago there was a fundraiser for Clinton sponsored by the well-off gays and lesbians in Hollywood and Clinton made these promises to them.

But the problem was that there wasn't any organizing of average gays and lesbians to put mass pressure on Clinton to keep his promises.

When Clinton said he supported lifting the ban on gays in the military, the military establishment made an uproar and made Clinton backtrack. But on the other hand if Clinton saw that the gay community was massively out protesting and putting pressure on him instead of making excuses for him, then he wouldn't break his promises.

Pride: 'Reaching millions more people every year'

The first Christopher Street West was a march of 1,500 people, not a parade. Back in 1970, I received a letter from a gay activist in New York saying we're going to hold a Gay Pride march in New York, what are you going to do in L.A.?

At first, I thought what arrogance to address a letter to me in that manner. But then I decided the immediate task was to organize a march.

I spent countless hours trying to come up with a title for the march. Then one day a friend of mine came up to me and said, I got the perfect name-Christopher Street West-and it's been called that ever since.

The first Gay Pride was a success largely because of the police chief of Los Angeles. He gave us a lot of exposure in the press mainly because he ranted on to the press and threatened to arrest all participants in the march.

We had filed for a permit to march in the streets and it was granted. But the city said we had to pay over $150,000 in insurance. So, there was a debate over whether we should go ahead and march on the sidewalk or do civil disobedience in the street.

Well, a couple days before the march we got an injunction from a judge and proceeded to have a successful march down Hollywood Boulevard, which back then was considered the heart of the gay community.

I will say this-each year more and more places are having Pride marches around the world and reaching millions more people. Take Tijuana, for example. This is their third Pride event and many more people came out to Pride Day than last year.

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