Discover LGBTQIA Los Angeles: Morris Kight Residence

Kelly Wallace, Librarian, History Department,
Morris Kight Residence and Morris Kight ca 1999
Morris Kight Residence and Morris Kight ca.1999

Los Angeles has over 1,200 Historic-Cultural Monuments, yet only a dozen have been designated because of their association with the LGBTQIA community.

This post is part of a series we put together for Pride Month that tells the stories of historically and culturally significant LGBTQIA places across Los Angeles and the grassroots efforts to save them. You can also participate in the LGBTQIA Los Angeles Challenge to explore more landmarks and hidden gems that tell the story of L.A.’s diverse LGBTQIA heritage.

From 1967 to 1974, the house at 1822 West 4th Street was the home of Morris Kight, a founding father of the LGBTQIA civil rights movement. Working from this modest home, Kight co-founded three seminal LGBTQ institutions: the Los Angeles Chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, the Christopher Street West gay pride parade, and the Gay Community Services Center (now the Los Angeles LGBT Center).

Part Four: Morris Kight Residence

Morris Kight was born into a farming family in Proctor, Texas in 1919. Kight was named after Virginia Morris, the midwife who delivered him because his family was too poor to pay her for her services. Located in Comanche County, Proctor was a desolate and isolated place to live. Kight recalled he felt like “a stranger in my own home, a visitor in the village, not part of it, always alienated.”

Morris Kight and his siblings
Morris Kight and his siblings;  Morris Kight is in the center, [ca.1920]. Photo credit: ONE Archives at USC Libraries

After his father was killed in an accident when he was seven, Kight took on many of the chores and responsibilities of the farm. Kight received a scholarship to Texas Christian University, where he studied public administration and political science. While at TCU, Kight formed the Oscar Wilde study group, one of the first openly gay clubs on a university campus. He often wore a purple TCU baseball cap and remained a loyal Horned Frog (or Horny Toad, as he used to say) for the rest of his life.

Kight moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and became a full-time activist. He moved to the house at 1822 West Fourth Street in 1967. At the time, the Westlake neighborhood was popular with gays and lesbians. MacArthur Park was popular for gay cruising and the house on 4th St. was within walking distance of gay meeting places such as the Latino PhotoShop, Langer’s Deli, and the Alvarado Theatre, which played mostly gay porn.

MK House
MK House. Photo credit: Laura Dominguez, L.A. Conservancy

Kight’s home was a gay community center before there were gay community centers. He hosted social gatherings in the large backyard at a time when it was difficult for gays to socialize outside of clubs and bars. He organized rap sessions, bailed people out of jail, and offered free one-on-one counseling. He passed out business cards with his name, address, and phone number in bars all around Los Angeles.

Kight recruited nurses and doctors to the West 4th Street house to see patients with venereal disease in an informal VD clinic in a backroom nicknamed “the clap shack.” At a traditional clinic, any treatment for sexually transmitted conditions was legally required to be reported to the County Health Board and this information often ended up in the newspapers. Morris Kight essentially created an underground social service agency for gay men at 1822 West 4th Street.

In the summer of 1969, Kight co-founded the Los Angeles Chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. The GLF’s counterculture leanings were a sharp contrast to more conservative homophile groups like the Mattachine Society.

The Gay Liberation Front operated out of Kight’s home and in its first two years of existence, the GLF organized over 175 protests. The first was at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. A crude handwritten sign that read “Fagots stay out” had hung over the bar since the 50s.

Fagots stay out
Fagots Stay Out sign, [1970]. Photo credit: ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

For three months, the GLF held loud demonstrations and sit-ins in front of Barney’s Beanery until the owner relented and took down the sign.

Give queens beans
Give queens beans, [1969]. Photo credit: Pat Rocco, ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

In June 1970, Kight helped organize a parade to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. His fellow organizers included Reverend Bob Humphries (United States Mission) and Reverend Troy Perry (Metropolitan Community Church). A permit from the City of Los Angeles was required to hold the parade. At the Police Commission meeting, Chief of Police Ed Davis said, “Well, I want to tell you something. As far as I’m concerned, granting a parade permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulevard would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves and robbers.”

The Police Commission voted in favor of granting a permit with the condition that the backers secure a one million dollar bond to cover property damage and police costs. Kight immediately filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the ACLU. The conditions were dropped and the permit was granted just two days before the parade.

And so the world’s first permitted gay pride parade took place on June 28, 1970. Over thirty groups met at McCadden Place and headed north toward Hollywood Boulevard. As the marchers turned the corner, they saw over 30,000 spectators lined up on both sides of the street.

“So marched we did, with butterflies in our stomachs, with legitimate doubts and fears, but with enormous courage and devotion.”—Morris Kight

Crowd at LA’s first parade
Crowd at L.A.’s first parade, [June 28, 1970]. Photo credit: Pat Rocco, ONE Archives at the USC Libraries
First Pride Parade 1970
First gay pride parade, [June 28, 1970]. Photo credit: ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

The parade is now called L.A. PRIDE and, pre-pandemic, the event attracted 200,000 people and brought in an estimated $70 million to the local economy.

Morris Kight knew firsthand the need for access to social services within the LGBTQIA community. Established agencies were often hostile to serving gays and lesbians. Rather than continue fighting to convince existing agencies to treat the LGBTQIA community with respect, Kight and two other members of the Gay Liberation Front, Don Kilhefner and John Platania, envisioned a network of social services run for and by gays and lesbians. In April of 1971, the three organized the Gay Community Services Center (GCSC).

During its first year of operation, the Center served between 1,700 and 2,500 gays and lesbians every week. GCSC continued to grow into one of the largest LGBTQIA organizations in the country. In 1974, the GCSC became the first gay organization granted nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service, even though the GCSC’s application was initially rejected because it served homosexuals. Now called the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Center provides services for more LGBTQIA people than any other organization in the world.

Los Angeles LGBT Center
LGBT Center. Photo credit: Los Angeles LGBT Center

In 1979, Kight was named to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. He served for 23 years. At his last meeting in 2002, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called Kight “a living legend in the gay and lesbian struggle for equality.” Morris Kight died on January 19, 2003. On October 30th, 2003, the City of Los Angeles named the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place Morris Kight Square in honor of the gay rights pioneer.

Morris Kight Square
Morris Kight Square. Photo credit: Mary Ann Cherry

The Morris Kight Residence has been nominated to be designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The house was a hub of the LGBTQ civil rights movement and the setting for Morris Kight’s groundbreaking work as a gay liberation leader and activist.

Morris Kight residence today
Morris Kight residence today. Photo credit: Gosney-Eggert Historic Preservation Consultants

—With special thanks to Miki Jackson for sharing her memories of Morris Kight and to Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney for their efforts in writing the Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for the Morris Kight Residence.