Justin Knighten '08 (Public Relations)

Sac State grad marching for equality

For most of his adult life, Justin Knighten has lent his skills to spurring shifts in social thought. While a student at Sac State, he interned at the California Environmental Protection Agency legislation office and helped work on the landmark Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act.

Now a senior account executive at Sacramento public affairs firm Lucas Public Affairs, Knighten’s work typically focuses on renewable energy, biotech, water policy and the like. But he has also taken his talents beyond the U.S. to fight for global equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Last summer, Knighten traveled to Hungary to serve as volunteer media officer for the Harvey Milk Foundation during Budapest Pride, Hungary’s largest LGBT event. It culminated in a history-making march to Constitutional Square.

“It was a significant moment in Hungary’s culture,” he says. “I really wanted to see it for myself.”

The Harvey Milk Foundation advocates globally for LGBT and marginalized communities and is a pro bono client of Lucas Public Affairs. Since the foundation’s launch in 2010, Knighten has volunteered his time to support co-founders Stuart Milk and Anne Kronenberg, nephew and campaign manager, respectively, of the slain San Francisco supervisor. They invited Knighten to help promote the cause abroad.

“Hungary is experiencing their own political issues with a new parliament trying to limit media laws, redo their constitution and limit the rights of LGBT people,” he says. “It’s pretty dire circumstances.”

Along with coordinating meetings with state officials and diplomats, Knighten attended a Hungary Pride committee meeting with Milk where dozens of representatives from surrounding countries—Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania—expressed their frustrations at the persecution against the global LBGT community. They also went over the logistics of the march, specifically if it became violent or was shut down as it had been the previous year.

The march remained open, but countless protesters lined the streets. “There were more there against us than for us,” Knighten says.

Knighten navigated press for Milk while walking with thousands of participants, many of whom covered their faces out of fear. Knighten became concerned for his own safety when he encountered a threatening group of anti-Pride protesters away from the march route, an experience he wrote about in a piece published by The Huffington Post.

After Budapest, Knighten’s next international outreach effort was with the British press, serving as liaison for Milk when he addressed the House of Lords. 

While Knighten got a clear view of the oppression still prevalent in many parts of the world, he says there is evidence of a shift bolstered by LGBT supporters.

He says, “They’re changing the way people think, the way they act and how they look at the world.” 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2012 edition of Sac State Magazine.