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Morris Kight, a gay American original (Photos)

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Only if you knew what went before do you feel its absence.

Today, crimped by the coronavirus crisis, the quiet streets of West Hollywood are haunted by gay activists of the past — the rallies against police harassment and the anti-gay Briggs Initiative, the AIDS vigils and ACT UP protests, and the ground troops organizing for pro-gay politicians in a consequential election year.

Ubiquitous among the generations of activists was Morris Kight, the radical gay rights advocate with a theatrical cadence and genteel nod who adored the spotlight and brazenly asserted in a matter-of-fact manner that he had essentially founded all things gay in L.A. About half of that was true – though it’s hard to gauge with complete accuracy.

Today, when TikTok makes originality commonplace, the younger LGBTQ community might not fathom how original this gay rights pioneer was when homosexuality was illegal and in an environment where more conservative gays and lesbians intensely squabbled with more radical LGBTQ activists who insisted on respect, not respectability.

Kight, like Ivy Bottini, his lesbian feminist sister in the movement for gay and lesbian liberation, rebuked assimilation, while at the same time exercising his ability to command a mainstream stage the minute he walked through the door and demanding attention be paid for gays and other minorities during his more than 20 years on the Los Angeles County Human Rights Commission.

Morris Kight was 83 when he died at the Carl Bean Hospice in 2003. But for those who feel the absence of his theatrical activism, one wonders: what would Morris do if he were alive and thriving today?

“He’d be very busy. He would probably have multiple phone lines,” says ally and Kight friend Mary Ann Cherry, the “hopelessly hetero” author of Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist during a recent phone interview. “First let’s acknowledge that the needs have changed. When there’s a gay teen runaway, when a teen is abandoned by their family, they have places to go and if they don’t know about them, they quickly learn about them.”

That’s considerably different from the 1960s and 1970s when Kight handed out his card to homeless LGBTQ teens and offered help with no strings attached.

If Kight were alive today, Cherry’s best guess is that “Morris would be focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. They are out there, they’re doing it. They are determined and they’re very obvious and vocal about it.”

And though Kight was known nationally, his focus was on a local level. “He would have been all over this homeless issue years ago,” Cherry tells the Los Angeles Blade. He would attend city council meetings complaining about years of economic injustice through development deals that “are now coming home to roost.”

Kight would also be complaining against the cooptation of the LGBTQ liberation movement through the influx of money, especially corporate money.

“The gay community has become very respectable, so to speak, and they don’t want to be identified with the old hippie roots,” says Cherry. “And there’s also a need to disidentify with the liberal ideology, because the truth is — not all gay people are going to be antiwar. And not all gay people are going to be pro-Black Lives Matter. We can’t assume anybody’s ideology based upon their sexual identity. And we make that mistake. And I think Morris made that mistake.”

Gay couples were the same before the Supreme Court granted same sex couples the freedom to marry, she notes.

“We understand, we appreciate the importance of being able to marry the person you choose to be with,” Cherry says. “But Morris always worried about the gay community becoming ‘heterosexuized’ — that they give into what the heterosexual community was about. And I think gay marriage kind of speaks to that — but it legitimizes people.”

Kight was also opposed to the City of West Hollywood “appeasing” Coors Beer, as was Don Kilhefner, who co-founded with Kight the LA Chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, which confronted psychiatrists over their use of lobotomies and other “behavior modification” practices, now known as “conversion therapy.” Kight also used his resources Rolodex when co-founding the LA Gay Community Services Center on Wilshire Boulevard in 1971. Kilhefner did not speak with Cherry for the book.

Kight was opposed to letting Coors off the hook. The boycott against the anti-gay company started in the late 1970s when Kight’s friend, San Francisco activist Harvey Milk, sided with union truck drivers and started a long association between gay rights advocates and the labor movement, which became critical in defeating the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in 1978. Eventually Coors Brewing Company met the boycott demands, though patriarch Adolph Coors continued to contribute to anti-gay causes.

Morris thought Coors hadn’t really done what needed to be done,” Cherry says. “You really can’t force a corporation or even a family like Coors to change their values.”

Kight and Kilhefner are linked together in LGBTQ history but that’s not the whole story. “When they had a cause in common, they were a great front. They really were very strong and powerful,” Cherry says. “But that was only around a cause — that wasn’t who they were as individuals.”

Indeed, Kight’s relationship with Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, was one of mutual respect and allowances for human foibles such as Kight’s renowned self-aggrandizement. The two LA gay activists, along with homeless advocate Rev. Bob Humphries, co-founded Christopher Street West and the Pride Parade.

Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist, Cherry says, is “this man’s story about how one person can make a difference.”

But this well-research biography also serves a larger purpose, telling the unflinching but colorful arc of L.A. LGBTQ history through the life of this one dramatic original gay activist, Morris Kight.

Postscript: Mary Ann Cherry was the perfect person to write this well-research, dense biography of Morris Kight – most of the rest of us who knew Morris would no doubt have written a skewed version through whatever kaleidoscope lens we might be looking at him. This was a 17 year commitment. And Mary Ann also raises an issue not really tackled in LGBTQ history books: the serious ripple effects and harmful impact The Closet has on unsuspecting heterosexual spouses, children and friends. While LGBTQ people might deal with the devastation of internalized homophobia, Mary Ann looks at the selfishness of keeping that secret. She also honestly writes about Morris’ out-sized ego, as well as the monumental humanitarian community services he provided to marginalized people, especially LGBTQ youth with nowhere else to turn. Morris deserves this book and the LGBTQ community owes Mary Ann a debt of gratitude for adding such an important, serious contribution to LGBTQ history.

When I first started reporting for the “gay press” in the late 1980s after a career in mainstream media, I had no idea there was a gay or lesbian community. By 1988, I’d met a lot of gay people through 12 Step programs and AIDS services and memorials. But honestly, it wasn’t until I had long talks with Harry Hay, Jim Kepner and Morris Kight that I really grasped that we were an oppressed minority around whom straights devised a mythical reputation as abnormal sexual perverts and predators (thank you for the synopsis, Vito Russo!) – which we internalized as the truth!

It was an awakening. I was very grateful. So I took my job reporting LGBT news very seriously – while also giving myself permission to be a perpetual student.

Like Mary Ann, Morris used to call me at 6:00am about something that was happening. I explained to him that Frontiers, for which I was freelancing at the time, published every other week, not daily, so he could have called later. And like Mary Ann, Morris would finish whatever he had to say, then just hang up. No “goodbye.” It was as if he just didn’t have time for some of these minor niceties. And Morris didn’t drive so that sometimes fell to me – though mostly to AHF stalwart Miki Jackson.

Mary Ann’ book has lots of photos but here are some I took that I thought might be of interest:

I drove Morris to Dorr Legg’s memorial at the Milbank Mansion in 1994. It was my first realization that the LA gay movement of elders (not L or B or T yet) was essentially two contingents – the Harry Hay group and the Morris Kight group.

That division kept on for a long time.

But there were other times, especially at an event where Harry was being honored, where they would put their differences aside. Since I knew them fairly well by then, I asked if I could take a three shot of the movement’s honored elders – and they complied.

Morris, a pacifist, constantly challenged anti-gay LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, who militarized the police and for whom openly racist and homophobic LAPD Chief William H. Parker had been a mentor. It was odd, then, to see the two in public – holding their positions but sometimes being unexpectedly jovial.

Morris, who co-founded Stonewall Democratic Club, had the political era of many electeds and introduced then to the LGBT community, such as taking former Gov. Jerry Brown to the French Market in West Hollywood in 1992; or driving newly-elected Seattle City Councilmember Sherry Harris through riot-scared LA then to the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center on Highland with AHF’s Miki Jackson; or celebrating Ivy Bottini’s birthday with LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Morris also advocated for the Death with Dignity initiative with Torie Osborn and Rev. Malcolm Boyd.

Morris also decided to rename “Queer Village” — the triangle at Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Heights in West Hollywood where AIDS and AB 101 (the gay civil rights bill) fasting protests had occurred — the Matthew Shepard Human Rights Triangle after the tragic hate murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

In 2001, the City of West Hollywood planted trees and plaques at that site honoring both Morris and Ivy for their decades of LGBTQ activism.

Morris with Don Kilhefner, Betty Berzon, Gwen Baldwin and Lillene Fifield.

In 1983, Morris helped found Aid for AIDS, a small organization that raised money to give to people with AIDS for emergency payment of rent, mortgages and utilities to enable them to die with dignity at home instead of homeless on the streets. Later a friendship developed between AIDS activist Michael Weinstein, who went on to co-found the Chris Brownlie Hospice in 1987 and subsequently, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Morris attended AHF fundraisers and hung out during CSW Pride, if he wasn’t the focus of the parade. Morris died at AHF’s Carl Bean Hospice; his memorial at MCC in West Hollywood drew scores of dignitaries and old friends.

In 2003, the LA City Council, led by Councilmember Eric Garcetti, and Morris’ friends, including CSW co-founder Rev. Troy Perry, designated the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place as “Morris Kight Square” as the site of the first CSW Pride Parade in 1970. Several people noticed the amusing ironic fact that the Square is right outside the Scientology Hollywood store front, as if Morris was haunting the anti-gay “religion.”

 

 

 

 

 

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A Prince of Porn lays out the bare naked truth

But before there was a book, there was a creation

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Photo montage courtesy of Doug Probst

LOS ANGELES – Shawn Mayotte was one of the most beautiful golden boys of 80’s porn.  The fact that his alter-ego, his real-life self, named Doug Probst lived to write a book in 2021, is at the least, astounding, if not down-right miraculous.

Write one, he did.  Mayotte: The Musings of a Narcissist, A Survivor’s Story is now in print.

Mayotte the book is as multi-dimensional as the man who wrote it.  It is sexually explicit and unvarnished.  It, to coin the modern vernacular “spills the T”.  Shawn Mayotte spun his popular porn exposure into a high-class escort service and in the book…. He names names.

He describes clients ranging from “Brady dad” Robert Reed who was shy, closeted and willing to pay big to keep his sexual orientation secret quiet.  To the kind Alan Carr, and the fatherly Michael Filerman, the Knotts Landing and Falcon’s crest producer.  Shawn Mayotte was a regular for actor Dack Rambo as well.  About him, Doug states emphatically, “It became more than just sex, I really loved him.”

Doug became so bold in his Shawn Mayotte persona, that he barged into David Geffen’s office and demanded to see him.  As he describes in the book, the ploy worked.  David became an escort client, helped Doug score some music connections and spilled his own “T” on Elton John, John Lennon and others.

Doug’s story is much more complicated than Shawn’s however.  Shawn’s brash and uninhibited sexuality was forged by one of the most brutal and abusive childhoods imaginable.

Doug Probst was born to two people who had no right to ever be parents.  His father was an angry tyrant who regularly raped his daughter, Doug’s sister.  He beat Doug unmercifully and without provocation.

Doug’s mother was a sick alcoholic who could not be bothered with Doug or the domestic world around them.  When Doug and his sister begged her to save them from her husband’s rapist and psychotic behavior, she refused to believe them.  Her disbelief continued until she herself walked in on a rape in progress.

She ended up putting Doug in a Catholic boy’s home for his own protection.  Protection, was the last thing he ever found there.  During the day he, who was blond with deep brown eyes and beautiful, was beaten and taunted by the thugs who were his classmates.  At night, the same bullies forced him, still a young teen, to perform sex acts on them.  The Catholic officials that ran the school were no better – several of them raped him.

Doug was soon on the streets, but he went there not as a victim, but owning his sexual power.  He owned the fact that men wanted him… and he would no longer allow them to just take on demand.  If they wanted him, they were going to have to pay.  He created Shawn Mayotte, and started to exercise his own super power… seduction.

Shawn Mayotte, his centerfolds, his porn movies… defined Doug for years, as Doug forged a real and solid music career in the background.

Doug’s biggest paradigm shift, the one that allowed Shawn Mayotte to no longer be his definition or his truth, came at the birth of his son, Joshua.  It was the first time that Doug knew true love, unconditional love.  It also shook loose an inner core belief… that his parents’ monstrous behavior was due to something in him.  That they were exhibiting normal “love” and that there had been something inherently wrong with him.

Now, being a parent, he knew that was not true.  He knew what parental love felt like because it was coming through him to his new baby boy.  He now knew that his parents weren’t “normal”, they were completely fucked up.

Seduction as a super power is to have a desired effect on another person, to change them.  Just because Doug had lost interest in being Shawn, did not take his super power away.  Instead he focused it on righting wrongs, and defending people who were hurt – particularly those who were devastated by AIDS and the porn industry itself.

Many of us who lost countless friends to AIDS think of them that way…  countless.  Not for Doug Probst.  He kept count.  In the book, he talks about the many people he lost, and he will tell you the exact number death they represented.  He sings out tributes to specific friends, ones who publicly gave their sexuality and ultimately died for it.  He describes a tender evening of soft lovemaking with Doug Cooper who was known in porn as Tim Kramer.  He eulogizes porn star Jon King, who he begged to protect himself, but in the end wasted away tragically.  He tributes the beautiful Kurt Higgins (Jim Rideout) who was stricken with AIDS but died from a drug overdose.

Doug Probst has many people with whom he could be angry.  His monstrous parents, his pedophile rapist Priests, the many men who used him as an beautiful toy, a Republican dominated society who let our whole community die as they ridiculed us …  but for all them, he only seems to show compassionate understanding.  He saves his anger for the powerful men who controlled it all.  One was Cardinal Roger Mahoney. 

“I spoke to Cardinal Roger Mahony to make him aware of the pain he caused all of us child sexual assault victims. He was the most hollow, detached man I’d ever met outside of my own father,” Doug told me.  “I was speaking for the 508 victims in our lawsuit against the LA County Archdiocese after 5 years of him fighting us. Many of the victims were in prison or had been seroconverted to HIV at ten years old by priests; their whole lives and ability to earn a living had been destroyed by Catholic Bishops, Messrs., Priests, Brothers, etc.  As I was telling Mahony about being raped by his priests, Judge McCoy was crying, our Attorneys were crying, I was crying, but Mahony was unmoved.”

As confrontational as Doug was with Mahoney, there was one other who seem to bring up more deep felt wrath… the king of gay porn himself, William Higgins.

“William Higgins started gay films when nobody thought about it and how big they could become. I give him credit for that. But everybody’s complicated. On the one hand, he was a trail blazer, there’s no doubt.   Sometimes trail blazers, they have a vision, and they don’t give a shit who they hurt,” Doug stated. “Bill Higgins used my friends. All those early guys that we saw in his films. They were friends of mine. He didn’t give a shit about making kids not use a condom. My friends, who died as a result of him telling them that they couldn’t, that he wasn’t going to allow them to work if they did. It  was at a time when he knew damn well that you had to wear a condom or you were going to die. I don’t really have mixed feelings towards him anymore. I hate him. I HATE him. I mean, I really consider him a murderer.”

So Doug Probst wrote a book, and I could not put it down.  Neither will you.

But before there was a book, there was a creation: Doug created Shawn Mayotte.  You may have seen him.  You may have seen him on magazines or in videos. You may have seen him erect, sexual and alluring.
But until you read Mayotte: The Musings of a Narcissist, A Survivor’s Story , you won’t have seen him truly naked at all.

Doug Probst in 2021
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Books

The transformation of Eleanor Roosevelt

New book reveals surprising flaws of first lady in layered portrayal

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Eleanor Roosevelt, gay news, Washington Blade
(Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

‘Eleanor’
By David Michaelis
c.2020, Simon & Schuster
$35.00 / 698 pages

Life, as they say, is an open book.

When you’re born, someone else starts writing it for you, but it doesn’t take long for you to be your own author. Through the years, you’ll scribble ideas, compose thoughtfully, add chapters, and crumple pages. Your life’s book might be a series of quick notes, long essays, one-liners or, as in “Eleanor” by David Michaelis, you could build an epic story.

In today’s world, we might call Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother abusive: Anna Hall Roosevelt never had a kind word to say to her daughter, often mockingly calling little Eleanor “Granny.” It’s true that Eleanor wasn’t lithe and beautiful like her mother; she was awkward and stern, a Daddy’s girl for an often-absent, alcoholic father.

Orphaned by the time she was 12, Eleanor had been long told that she was homely and plain but school chums knew her as a caring girl with a sharp mind. That intelligence later caught the eye of the dashing Franklin Roosevelt, a somewhat-distant cousin who courted her with the nose-holding approval of his mother.

It was a good match, but only for a short while: too quickly, it was apparent that Eleanor and Franklin were colossally mismatched. She needed him to need her but he couldn’t – not in the way she wanted, so she found love in the arms of another man and a woman. Her compassion for others, a rather acquired sense, helped buoy his ambition; his ambition gave her a reason to dig in and reach out to their fellow Americans in need. Despite that it invited controversy from Washington insiders, Roosevelt changed the office of the first lady by ignoring what past first Ladies had done.

Readers who are not deep historians are in for many layers of surprise inside “Eleanor,” the first being Roosevelt’s early life, and the racism she exhibited as a young woman. Famously, she was a champion of African Americans during the years of her husband’s time as president and beyond, and she strove for equality, but author David Michaelis shows a sort of axis of attitude that the former first lady experienced.

His portrayal is balanced with compassion: Michaelis lets us see a transformation in the pages of this book and it’s fascinating to watch. Rather than romanticize Roosevelt, Michaelis paints her as someone with flaws that she may not have overtly acknowledged but that she learned to work around. This becomes abundantly clear in tales of the warmth Roosevelt craved but was denied by her husband and the relationships she enjoyed in open secret, including a passionate love she shared with reporter Lorena Hickock and a much-debated, possible affair with State Trooper Earl Miller. Such tales are told matter-of-factly and without salaciousness, though you may feel a whoop of delight at a supposedly staid Depression-era White House that really was a den of dalliance.

Don’t let its heft frighten you away: “Eleanor” may be wide but so is its story. Indeed, you’ll be carried away when you open this book.

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Books

Best books of 2020

Favorites in fiction and nonfiction to get you through a long winter

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A sweeping experiment in tolerance is at the heart of ‘Under the Rainbow.’

You’ve got a little extra time this month, and you don’t want to waste it.

You want to read something good, the possibilities are endless, and the best place to begin is with these Best Books of 2020 titles…

FICTION

“Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman starts out kind of weird, as if it consists of half-thoughts. Stick around a few more pages, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a hilarious, sweet, wild tale of a robbed bank, a real estate open house, and heart. Put this at the top of your list, if you love novels.

Both “Beheld” by TaraShea Nesbit and “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab involve women in situations that are dark and dangerous: In the Nesbit book, a Pilgrim village holds secrets that are not discussed, and the wife of the town troublemaker knows too much. In the Schwab novel, a headstrong young woman makes a decision she might regret for the rest of her very long life. There’s a hint of feminism in both books, and they’ll both give you shivers for months after you finish them.

Fans of thrillers will eat up “The Last Flight” by Julie Clark, a tale of an abusive husband, swapped identities, and murder – or maybe not. If you like heart-pounding cat-and-mouse tales, this is your book… only here, you sometimes don’t know which is the cat and there’s an extra, menacing mouse.

A wide, sweeping experiment in tolerance is at the heart of “Under the Rainbow” by Celia Lasky. Acceptance Across America, an LGBTQ organization, is about to see if they can change the hearts and minds of bigots in Small-Town America by moving a handful of gay men and lesbians to Big Burr, Kansas. This novel, told from the POV of the town’s residents, is full of humor, love, secrets, haters, strife, and everything else you want in a novel.

NONFICTION

“How to Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know Before Leaving Earth” by Terry Virts is fun and lighthearted, and will put you back in touch with your inner child, the one that really wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. It’s filled with inside information, fun facts, a bit of memoir, and it’s timely. Space Force, anyone?

Pet lovers absolutely should not miss “Good Boy” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a memoir of life and family told in seven dogs that Boylan lived with and loved. What lands this book on the list is that Boylan will make you reminisce about all the Good Boys (and Girls) you’ve loved and lost, too.

Speaking of books that make you think, “We’re Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy” by Elijah Cummings with James Dale is the perfect book to read at the end of a tough political year. Written literally as Cummings was dying, this book is full of calming words that can help heal. If you feel beaten up by the past few months, this book is a balm for your soul.

While “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy may seem like a romp, it’s much more. Back when Donohue was a merchant seaman, he volunteered to take a beer to each of the hometown neighborhood “boys” in Vietnam. Finding them was half the problem; war was the other half. This is the consummate buddy book, and it can’t be missed.

Anyone who’s a sucker for a good Mother-and-Child book will love “Like Crazy: Life with My Mother and Her Invisible Friends” by Dan Mathews, who renovated a Victorian house and moved his mentally-ill, elderly mother in with him. She’s charming and funny, but she’s also a handful. Read it. Bring tissues. Enough said.

And there you have it: a slew of can’t-miss reads to get you through the winter. Season’s readings!

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