Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Pete Knight's gay son against Prop 8


David Knight
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The issue of same-sex marriage may be an intellectual debate for some, but for one family it's a wound that may never heal.

David Knight, the openly gay son of the late state Senator William "Pete" Knight, who authored Proposition 22 that voters passed in 2000, told the Bay Area Reporter last week that he was unaware but "not surprised" that his stepmother, Gail Knight, is a proponent of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative on the November ballot.

The younger Knight, who lives in Maryland, said that he is "absolutely" opposed to Prop 8.

Prop 22 defined marriage in California as between one man and one woman. It was added to the state's family code but was found unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in its May 15 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

"I haven't spoken to her since before my father's death, so my feelings are pretty numb," David Knight said in a telephone interview last week. "All I can say is that I don't have a relationship with her, but I'm not surprised."

David Knight, 46, made headlines in late 1999 when he publicly came out as a gay man to denounce his father's anti-gay marriage initiative in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times .

He said last week that he was unaware that his stepmother is listed on documents filed with the California Secretary of State's office as a proponent of Prop 8.

"I didn't know that," David Knight said. "She is, really? A proponent? That's very interesting."

After a brief pause he added, "Of course she is."

Now a real estate agent in the Baltimore area, David Knight said that he would be interested in becoming involved with the No on 8 Equality for All campaign. While he didn't know specifically what he could do, he said, "I'd do whatever I could to help out; it's certainly an issue I believe in."

He's also involved with Movable Feast, an organization that delivers food to people living with HIV and others with disabilities in Baltimore, and serves on its strategic planning board.

Family ties

David Knight's biological mother died in 1978 when he was still in high school. Pete Knight remarried some years later.

According to David Knight who, like his father, joined the Air Force after high school, his relationship was "always very good" with his father, and "peachy" with Gail. That is, until David Knight came out to his family in 1996. Since then, the Knight family ties have been in tatters.

David Knight's wish to reconcile with his father initially made him reluctant to enter the same-sex marriage debate, but he eventually agreed to write an op-ed piece in late 1999 for the Times . He was critical of his father's defense of "family values," noting that the elder Knight effectively ended his relationship with him after he had come out several years earlier, something the younger Knight felt negated his father's claim that he was "pro-family."

In the op-ed piece, David Knight also noted that his father never discussed his sexual orientation with him and added that the 75-year-old senator severed ties with his own gay brother, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1996.

"I believe, based on my experience, that his is a blind, uncaring, uninformed, knee-jerk reaction to a subject about which he knows nothing and wants to know nothing, but which serves his political career," David Knight wrote in the op-ed piece.

David Knight said last week that he didn't know what motivated his father to write Prop 22. Pete Knight died in May 2004.

"You know, I wish I could answer that but I don't know," he said. "Ever since I came out to him we didn't have a relationship."

David Knight said that there were attempts to reconcile with his father and stepmother, but they were unsuccessful.

"We tried a few family reunions, but they were awkward, to say the least," he added.

How does the younger Knight feel about Gail Knight's latest public foray to oppose gay marriage?

"I haven't spoken to my stepmother since before my father's death, so my feelings are pretty numb," David Knight said. "All I can say is that I don't have a relationship with her, but I'm not surprised. She always mirrored everything he said."

In March 2004 David Knight and his partner of 10 years, Maryland architect Joseph Lazzaro, were married in San Francisco City Hall during the Winter of Love. Prior to getting married, David Knight phoned his father in yet another attempt to reconcile. He described the interaction with his father as "chilly" and said the conversation's tone was set with the elder Knight's first words, "Why are you calling me?", according to an article by Joe Crea of the Washington Blade.

David Knight said that he and Lazzaro are no longer together, "but we are still the best of friends."

"As far as my opinion about gay marriage, nothing has changed," said David Knight, who is now single. "The rights and the importance of being able to marry, well, I still feel exactly the same. It's like asking a divorcee if they still believe in marriage, or if they still believe they should have the right to marry. Of course."

David Knight still believes that in general, homophobia is the only reason people oppose gay marriage or gays in the military.

"I was a soldier and I believe in the mission, just as I believe in the right of gays and lesbians to marry. It was just appalling to see [the recent congressional hearing on gays in the military]," he said. "The positive side was nothing but positive and the arguments against were nothing but homophobic. The argument that special forces need to sleep together naked was ridiculous. I was a soldier and I showered with some real hot airmen and I never got excited by that and nobody else who's professional would, either."

David Knight said the past history of segregation of black servicemen is an example of the stupidity of the military's policy against gays and lesbians.

"Look at the exemplary records," he said of service members who have been discharged or who have come out after retiring.

David Knight declined to speak about his father's death or whether the two ever reconciled when asked by a Times reporter in 2004. Asked again by the B.A.R. , he responded, "That remains a personal and private matter."

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