How I Met the Oldest Gay Man in West Hollywood, and What He Taught Me

Drew Droege is an actor, comedian, and writer.

When you’re a minority, like a person of color, you have grandparents and aunts and uncles who tell you about your people’s history and pass these things on. When you’re gay, though, it’s like you don’t always have that relative or that elder to help you through it. So part of being gay is that very lonely journey. I don’t think that’s always bad. I think it’s a necessary loneliness that you should feel at a certain point in your life and seek out. You find community and yourself within that.

I’ve lived out in LA for 17 years, and I went to Pride a lot when I first moved. The most powerful thing that ever happened with me at Pride was I got to sit down and talk to Morris Kight. He was presented to me as the oldest gay man in West Hollywood, which he was very proud of. We were in some community center or somewhere, and he was just sitting and telling stories to two or three of us. I loved hearing his perspective. He’s sitting there, he’s well into his 90s, I believe, and he was talking about in the ’40s. Police officers, LAPD, would come over to his house and say, “We hear you’re a homosexual,” and he would say, “Yes. I am.” They would have sex with him, and then beat the sh*t out of him, and throw him in jail.

And he would tell these stories in his 90s and laugh about it. And I’m like, “Well, there’s no way he’s lying about this.” That was the reality of being out in the 1940s in LA. And it was well-known. Cops would just go over and do this, and then beat him up and incarcerate him. And to think, what if that was your reality? If you were gay, then that’s how you knew it to be. He just lived through so much. He’s a big founder of LA Pride, of the Christopher Street West. He died a little bit, maybe 10 years ago.

Over the years, I didn’t go to Pride as much. Last year, I had to do a show because I really wanted to go. It was the day after Orlando had happened. I was so sad I couldn’t go because I was working that day. But it’s crazy to think that that was a year ago, and I had family and friends calling me and saying, “Don’t go down to Pride today because of the shooting yesterday. It’s really dangerous.” And I was like, “I want nothing more than to go to Pride today. Now is not the time to get scared.” I mean, Guy Branum even wrote, “If anyone would like to shoot me, I will be on Santa Monica Blvd. for the parade in an hour.”

Pulse is the kind of thing that, when that’s happening you’re like, “I need to be around.” That night, I ended up going to Akbar, this gay dive in Silver Lake. It was the most beautiful, chill, somber night. Everybody just stood around and just hugged, and said, “I love you.” And people got up and read stories. It was so therapeutic, and it was this really special night because we were really torn up, obviously. Our community is everything.

Recently, I moved into a new building up on Beachwood, and my neighbors said, “Morris Kight lived in this building.” So, I live in his building now. What are the chances? And he had an orange tree with this superbitter orange that he made marmalade with. It still stands today, and our neighbors make marmalade with Morris Kight’s oranges. So every year I get a jar of his marmalade.

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How I Met the Oldest Gay Man in West Hollywood, and What He Taught Me

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