A Noble Recognition
If you can remember were any major political or social protests on behalf of gay rights or fighting AIDS in the early 1990s, Richard Noble was probably there. After a tumultuous time in high school and at home, Noble fled as a teenager for West Hollywood in the 1980s. Eventually he befriended Harry Hay, a legend in the gay rights movement, and through him decided it was time to make waves. In his years as an activist, he's staged hunger strikes, confronted the likes of Arsenio Hall and Dodger icon Tommy Lasorda, and marched hand in hand with Larry Kramer and David Mixner at the 1993 March on Washington. Noble says Hay is one of the most important influences in his career, along with the teachings of Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., all spiritual men who led movements and revolutions.
Because of his active time with Queer Nation in Los Angeles, Noble will be honored Monday with an official proclamation from the city of West Hollywood from his old friend from the front lines, city council member John Duran.
The Advocate: So, congratulations on your West Hollywood proclamation.
Richard Noble: You know, John Duran usually doesn't give out declarations, but because of the impact that Queer Nation had in the Hollywood industry and breaking through our wall of denial with our militant, extravagant, in-your-face, loud persistence and demonstrations, starting with Basic Instinct and going through the Catholic Church and AB 101 [a gay rights bill vetoed by California governor Pete Wilson in 1991] and going to Washington and Sacramento. So Queer Nation has never been put in an esteemful, prideful situation. We've always been criticized by the mainstream gay movement as being too militant. Our tactics were understood by many but misunderstood by a lot as well. So we talked a little bit, and I said, "Why don't we do something?" Originally I got a letter from letter from [West Hollywood mayor] Jeffrey Prang.
I told John that if you're going to use the LGBT acronym in the proclamation, that you please also use the letter Q.
He invited me to the city council meeting on May 3. There were a lot of dates we could have picked, but we just wanted to do something before Gay Pride. So he invited me to receive the proclamation. There will be a certain date acknowledged as a day to honor and acknowledge people who were out in the streets and were activists, many of whom are dead now. So many people are gone now.
How did you get involved with Queer Nation, and what particularly made you join and start getting active?
I left home at a young age, and through high school, my parents didn't care for me as a gay youth. The idea of "gay" in high school or junior high school wasn't even a concept most parents had. And so I left home at 15. And then I went back for a year, and then I heard that West Hollywood had a gay community, so I went to West Hollywood. I was embraced by other gay youths that were runaways looking for some place to fit in. Someplace to say, "We're OK." Somewhere that we didn't have to explain ourselves or be worried. I watched West Hollywood become a city when I was there.
All of my friends were dying and I heard that the embers were flaring in ACT UP. I was going to Marianne Williamson's lectures on Sunset Boulevard in her living room. I remember there being Louise Hay and the Hayride in West Hollywood, where gay people were gathering around the AIDS crisis, because people were dying and no one was doing anything about it. Also, crystal meth use became very heavy at the time, and the correlation startled me, and I wasn't the only one. A lot of people thought there was a connection, and there is -- crystal meth heightens you sexuality. How do you transmit HIV? Though sex.
So everybody was getting sick. In a three-year period, I lost about 30 close friends of mine. I was going to funerals all the time. I was devastated, and I didn't know what to do. Somewhere along the way Queer Nation happened. I heard there was a campout of the Radical Faeries. I liked the idea of running around the forrest with a bunch of gay friends and roasting marshmallows, and being free spirited. So I went and I spent the weekend with Harry Hay, and he became a good friend of mine. He taught me about what it meant to be a faerie and what it meant to be a queer. One time I said, "Well, why don't we have gay marriages?" and he said, "Honey, you will never be straight. You will never assimilate into what they want you to be. You will always be a little faerie," and I took that to heart.
Even within the gay community, people want to clip off our wings, and it's just never going to happen. So I embraced Harry, I miss him and I wish he was here, because that voice — I find it missing. I think we can find it in the Sisters of Indulgence, and there's still the Radical Faeries. And Q.N. in London is strong now, still.
What are some of the earlier actions in which Queer Nation took part?
So we gathered in the West Hollywood park and had this little meeting. I didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that I heard people crying, and I heard people speaking out in pain. There was a 19-year-old dying of cancer there. He couldn't walk, and he had a morphine drip, and I didn't know what was going on, but I didn't hear anyone in the government. Churches were telling us we were going to hell. I was watching my friends die, or drug addictions take over. So I just put it into gear, and people wanted to do one thing, and others wanted to do another. We would hear that a certain minister would say something antigay, so we would show up at church with signs. I didn't get to go, but some of my friends flew into New York for a big die-in that happened at the cathedral there in Manhattan. There were a lot of people in Queer Nation that were dying and living as AIDS activists. There was a fraction of us who were not positive and took to heart the queer aspect of ACT UP, and that became Queer Nation. The spirituality, that came from Harry Hay, Mattachine Society, and the Radical Faeries really built a strong community.
Then, of course, the Gay Men's Health Crisis started in New York with Larry Kramer. Then there was the  March on Washington. So as Queer Nation developed, I took a strong interest in the "queer" part of that movement. At that time Tommy Lasorda's son — when he was in the community — he was HIV-positive, and we didn't know why a man like Tommy Lasorda wouldn't come out to support the community, or give his support. So I remember jumping on the Dodger field and going up to him and asking, Why hasn't he said anything? Why hasn't he come out? Why isn't there any support from the area of sports? And he basically told me to shut my motherfucking mouth or he'd knock my goddamn teeth down my throat. That was the response. I went through whatever means necessary to have an open dialogue.
Tell me about your connection with your spirituality.
After a little while I started drinking and it became too much and I took a month off to go to India. I had to get centered with myself. The Radical Faeries and Harry Hay were deeply spiritual. And a lot of the Mexican-American Queer Nationals were spiritual. You would go over to their house, and you'd see altars with Our Lady of Guadalupe, and they would light candles, so behind the scenes there was a deep spiritual essence over what was going on, and that essence was what bound us together and held us really strong.
The first thing that comes to mind is Mark Wahlberg, or as he was once known, Marky Mark. He was loved by all as a Calvin Klein model. He showed up in Hollywood just as he was leaving his rap music behind, and making the transition from Marky Mark to Mark Wahlberg. At the same time, Mark Wahlberg was doing fund-raisers for AIDS organizations. I'm tying to remember, but there was another rap artist who made a derogatory comment toward sodomy. The gay community was up in arms, and they were going to boycott his fund-raiser the next weekend. But I said, "Wait a minute, he hasn't done anything here."
So I heard he was doing a book signing at Book Soup, so I showed up on that Friday night in my Calvin Klein underwear. At this point he was kind of blacklisted from the gay community as a gay basher. I thought it was really wrong. So I got there in a trench coat. When I got into the store, I took it off, and immediately security came and escorted me out the back. And I said, "What are you doing? Marky Mark is running around in his underwear all the time. I'm just here to show him support." They didn't understand why I was there. So I came back around through front door. This time his publicist let me come in to meet him, and I let him know why I was there, and I thanked him for showing support to our community in the end.
Here was someone doing something so wonderful for our community, but the negative story got spun out of control, and it was hurting him, and I didn't want that to happen.
What kind of advice do you have for young activists?
Read autobiographies of civil rights leaders. Actors, when they want to act, they read the stories and the lives of those who they will portray. In those sacred writings, if you will, heed their concepts, listen to what they're saying. Don't get into drugs and alcohol. Be strong and learn how to write letters, learn how to show up at events, wear your faerie wings at an event. We did — wings or leather jackets. And go to school. It's education that's the most important element. Write scripts, read literature, produce plays. Don't walk away from your faith, whether you're Christian, pagan, or Jewish. And when you write a politician, an elected official, get it notarized!