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Quiet Riot

A Richmond man who left Virginia because of anti-gay legislation returns to fight it.

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Peering benevolently through his horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a tweedy jacket and white hair in a brief ponytail, he looks like an eccentric professor, not Che Guevara.

Yet Knight has made himself a public spokesman for the movement to defeat a proposed amendment to the state constitution that will be on Virginia ballots Nov. 7. Ballot Question Number 1 would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman and forbid civil unions or other approximations of marriage.

Stepping into the spotlight was a bold move for Knight. He was interviewed, but insisted his name not be printed, in a 2004 Style cover story about how some gay couples were leaving the state after H.B. 751 became law. A precursor to the ballot amendment, H.B. 751 banned "civil unions or partnership contracts" between same-sex couples. Many gays worried this would void bank accounts, wills and other legal contracts between them. He also didn't want his clients (Knight was a substance-abuse counselor) to know he was gay, he says.

Knight and his partner of 16 years, Edward Weston, now live in New Castle, Del., a charmingly historical town on the Delaware Bay where, he says, anti-gay bias is refreshingly rare. Little love was lost between them and Richmond, Knight says: "The day I left, I said, 'I will never, ever come back to this town.'"

He returned last week because he was finally ready, he says. "I've blossomed," he says — an odd pronouncement for a man of 65 years.

With the help of Weston and cinematographer Henry B. Lee IV, Knight made a short film exploring the ramifications of the amendment. It premiered in a tiny theater at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church Sept. 20.

"We're calling it a docustory," he says. Not a documentary, he says, but a persuasive film that seeks "to educate the voters of Virginia in as neutral a way as possible" as they prepare to vote.

The first part of the film is a bit disorienting. Photographs of American flags and historic buildings interspersed with Bible verses and other quotes, play in slide-show fashion. At the same time, the audience hears a dialogue between mother and daughter about what the amendment could mean for a contract they have regarding a piece of family land.

The amendment says the state shall not "create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage." This clause is being interpreted by some to mean that wills and other contracts could be affected, a claim that the state's Deputy Attorney General David Johnson has denied.

Following the mother-daughter skit is a simple conversation between the two longtime lovers, Knight and Weston. Weston calls the amendment "mean-spirited," pointing out that Virginia law already bans gay marriage. "That's pretty strong language," Knight says.

"If I didn't feel so strongly about it, I'd probably still be living in Virginia," Weston replies. The film ends with Knight expressing his hope for justice for people like him, a man "who is loving another man." He cries. And the film ends.

Audience member Ellen Shelton thinks the film is effective. "What he tried to do was take this faceless homosexual out there, that people aren't thinking about as a person, and show that it's just a person like them," she says.

Shelton, who has a lesbian daughter, is herself working toward the defeat of the amendment, she says. Last week she was host of a "Nancy Reagan" party, she says with a grin, so-called for its "just vote no" theme.

Knight hopes people throughout the state will see his film before November. He has asked people to donate $25 for each DVD copy, but "we'll give it away if we have to," he says.

"I wouldn't marry Virginia if I were offered a huge dowry," he says. At the same time, he says, he couldn't abandon the state where he lived for nearly 40 years. "This is our kiss to Virginia," he says. S



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