Richard Noble was bullied as a kid in Danville. “Kids in school spit on me, pushed me, called me names, kicked my books.”
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Thirty years ago being gay meant harassment in high school, risking the disapproval of family and being cautious about who to trust. Things have changed, but maybe not enough. After the suicides of seven students in a year, Noble, 45, reached what he called his Cairo boiling point.
“With all the famine, pollution, economic challenges, earthquakes and other problems this planet is suffering, we are moving into a record number of species extinction. We have no time to tolerate discrimination of any kind because we can’t afford to lose anyone. We need every person who can contribute and work together as a human family to survive. Discrimination will be the end of us,” said Noble as he drank coffee in Centro prior to walking a copy of the American Equality Bill over to Placerville City Hall.
Noble is doing a lot of walking. Starting from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on March 12, he’s walked through rain and fog, through Oakland and cities in the Bay Area, Fairfield, Vacaville, Dixon, Sacramento, Folsom, El Dorado Hills, Rescue and Placerville, on his way across America, carrying the Rainbow flag and an amendment to the American Civil Rights Act, the American Equality Bill.
The staff that bears the Rainbow flag, symbol of gay pride, and two eagle feathers that represent Two Spirits, a Native American reference to gays and lesbians, also carries the names of two boys, Sam Catron and Seth Walsh. At 13, Catron was disowned by his family when he told them he was gay. Walsh was bullied by his fellow middle school students, bullying that escalated when he came out as being gay. Both boys committed suicide.
“This solo walk is my act of defiance. I want to give young people the courage to stand up against bullies and family abuse; to let them know they are not alone and to show the ones in towns where there are no rainbow flags or gay newspapers where they can reach out and get support,” said Noble.
Another very important piece of his walk is to gain support from city councils, state legislators and Congress for an amendment to the Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to gender, race, religion and ethnicity for non-discrimination and to make bullying a federal crime.
His route took him through Placerville on Wednesday on his way to the Walker Indian Reservation in Schurz, Nev., to pay tribute to Wovoka, the Ghost Dance prophet who is buried there.
“Harry Hay, who started the first gay activist society in 1950, the Mattachine Society, met Wovoka when Hay was a boy in 1927. Wovoka predicted that he would become a great friend of the People,” explained Noble. “Native Americans value the Two Spirits and their contributions and that’s what I’d like to see the history books show students in addition to the contributions of women and blacks that are being introduced.”
Activist and founder of Queer Nation Los Angeles, Noble, who has been featured in the Huffington Post and the Advocate, put his house in Palm Springs in storage for 18 months and started his journey armed with a 55-pound backpack, a tent and a staff with the Rainbow Flag. “It will be the first time the Rainbow Flag has been walked solo across America.”
Each day he dedicates his walk to a different person or organization who has touched his heart or furthered the cause in some way. Wednesday’s walk from Placerville to Pollock Pines was dedicated to the city of Placerville and its residents. Other walks have been dedicated to young people who have died, celebrities who have supported AIDS research and gay rights issues like Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor and Ellen Degeneres or to cities who have supported the anti-discrimination message.
He delivers a copy of the American Equality Bill to each city he walks through, asking for a city resolution in support. Sometimes he speaks at schools, letting students know about supportive resources like the Trevor Project, which provides 24-hour crisis support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and the It Gets Better Project, a project to eliminate hate and discrimination. California state Sen. Mark Leno and Congresswoman Barbara Lee have issued statements of support as well as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Noble uses couchsurfers.com for friendly places to stay when he isn’t tenting out and stays in touch with supporters, friends, and family via Skype: richardnoble and Twitter: richardnoble. Supporters can check his blog at walk.usfreedomring.com or send a friend request on Facebook to Richard Noble to keep track of his daily progress. He welcomes friends to walk with him.
“It will take nearly a year of my life to complete this walk. I am walking especially for the youth. I am walking for those who feel they have no hope. I am walking to wake people up and do what is right. This coast-to-coast walk is a call to action against discrimination, bullies, and injustice.”
Find out more about the Trevor Project at thetrevorproject.org and the It Gets Better Project at itgetsbetter.org.