Cherry, Mary Ann. “Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist”, Process, 2020.
Morris Kignt: Gay Rights Pioneer
It is so good to see so many new books about LGBTQ activists and I am especially glad to see that gay activist Morris Kight finally gets his due in the excellent new biography by Mary Ann Cherry. I have spent a lot of time reading about our history and I must admit that even though I had come across Kight, I really knew nothing about him. His life as an activist began in the 1930s when he was still a teen. Kight’s mother was the madame at a brothel in Texas and he was the only male living there. In the 50’s, Kight became a part ofan underground network of gay ‘safe houses’ that provided bail, health care, and legal advice when same-sex relationships were criminal in this country. The 60s brought him to the anti-war movement and the beginning of his public fight for “Gay Liberation.” Through this he was able to form relationships with fellow activists, politicians, socialites, and gangsters. He became an influencer long before social media brought millions together.
I am totally amazed by what I read here and could not help but wonder why there has not been more written about this hero. Cherry has done excellent research to bring Kight’s story to us and this book dazzles the mind.
Kight was the founder of several groups whose protests brought about The American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality as a disease, protecting civil rights for gay citizens in California, and the reduction of police violence against the gay community.
Of course, like all of us, Kight was a man with flaws and one of those was that he unfortunately alienated many people but the good that he did rises above that. We hear from those who both loved and hated him but, hey, that is human nature.
Maryann Cherry was a friend of Morris Kight in high school and she writes honestly about him. He was a Gay Liberation Front leftist and “because of him [Kight] and in spite of him”, the Front was able to change the world. Cherry also writes about the main participants in the movement as well as those who came and left. We read about Morris as a boy and as an under-privileged teenager, as a good-looking young man, as a husband, and as a father. Morris – the son of an altogether mad mother. He dared to be who he was when this was dangerous to do so.
In reading about Kight, we are better able to understand how our community got to where it is today and we learn that sometimes we must fight in ways that are considered to be outrageous—- Morris Kight was outrageous. About all else, we see that how he, one man, could make a difference and we can now revel in those differences that he made.
Now that I have finished my initial read of Cherry’s masterwork, I feel the need to go back and read it again and again. There is so much information here which is beautifully written, that the book is a pleasure as well as an important addition to the LGBTQ canon. I cannot recommend it highly enough.