For nearly 10 days of fasting, Richard Noble sounds healthy. Speaking by phone from Palm Springs, California, the energetic Noble from October 1 to 9 was publicly fasting for the end of the discrimination that he believes brought the suicides of young people like Asher Brown, 13, of Texas and Tyler Clementi, 18, of New Jersey. Believing that discrimination has "tyrannized us since we've been born," he is hell-bent on seeing discrimination end.
While this fast is about all forms of discrimination -- including legislation like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- it is also of particular importance to Noble. Like Brown and Clementi, he was bullied when he was in school and has the scars from suicide attempts that show it. A local paper recently described his set-up outside of a Palm Springs library as a "shrine" to the deceased.
He says he does not know why he chose fasting -- that it was just a spontaneous, intuitive act. As an organic activist, as he calls himself, he just does "what feels right." But Noble has never idly sat by and this action is just the latest in his long, storied career as a radical activist -- as if "organic activist" means "born to do it."
Noble got his name in activism. At 15 he ran away from home, where he felt different and where he was bullied at school, to the "over the top, fabulous" West Hollywood, California, where he found "a moral, spiritual home." There, according to a recent interview with The Advocate, he was among members of the radical GLBTQ community. And it was with them that he became involved with Queer Nation, a splinter group of ACT UP that focused on direct action but with a GLBTQ bend.
From staging a kiss-in at the Academy Awards that prevented celebrities from walking along the famous red carpet for ten minutes to stampeding churches that preached anti-gay messages, he and his colleagues at Queer Nation "broke Hollywood out of its shell." While feeling no regrets for confronting "churches and politicians in Hollywood" as part of the group's "Hollywood Homophobia" campaign, he admits that "militancy was not always my path. I appreciated the art of Queer Nation but needed to find my own voice."
Influences like Marianne Williamson's lectures on spirituality, the popularization of meditation in the States, as well as the fact that numerous young people with AIDS were dying around him, cultivated a yearning in Noble. Eventually, he felt called by an inner-voice to go to India "to find God and understand the relationship between homosexuality and religion." Soon, Noble embarked on a transformative pilgrimage to that country.
Noble's personal pursuit led him to study under the avatar (or, a deity's descendant) Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who over time met with Noble for five consultations and even blessed his wish to marry a man. "That Sai Baba would bless the wishes of man to marry another man has global implications," he says, "it says, 'gay marriage is on the way'."
It was following the first pilgrimage to India, and between two succeeding pilgrimages, that he began to read about Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Mahatma Gandhi's experiences as nonviolent practitioners. So, the recently enlightened Noble, partially in response to calls that Queer Nation was acting negatively, put these beliefs into practice and organized a "Queer Karma Day," where group members prepared and distributed seventy-five meals for the homeless -- with a sticker on the wrapper featuring their infamous slogan: "We're Here, We're Queer, Get used to it."
Noble's actions have not gone without recognition. In West Hollywood, the City Council proclaimed May 3, 2010 "Richard Noble Day." While Noble appreciates the honor, he sees it largely as a day in honor of the deceased who fought for GLBTQ rights with him, "with a name stuck to it." His type of humility is probably rare for a West Hollywood transplant, but perhaps comes as no surprise.
Sai Baba, who Noble enthusiastically describes, told his students to live by two mottos, "Help Ever, Hurt Never," and "Love All, Serve All." And he tells me, "I just want people to feel loved," an evident reference to Sai Baba's influence. Perhaps this is why Noble acts as he does and why he feels he is an "embodiment of love." But this is definitely why he believes discrimination must end. "Before the planet kicks us all off, we have to end discrimination, because we all need to work together," he says, linking climate change's impacts to discriminations, the type of broad reference not uncommon for this self-described spiritual activist.
Noble believes that, whoever is responsible for the deaths of young people like Brown and Clementi, discrimination led to their deaths. And that it will be the deaths of many more young people, and even the earth, until we eliminate this dividing force in our lives.
Thank you to Zoe Nicholson for introducing me to Richard.