Article and Photos by Richard Noble
I was at a conference in La Quinta when the original email came in. I knew there was a possibility I had been invited but wasn’t sure. At first, I was amazed and excited, thrilled beyond containment. No more than a few minutes had passed by before tears started rolling down my face. It took me some time to process but obviously the next thing I did was to phone home and process a little with my Dad. He was so happy for me.
To the LGBT community of the desert, I was someone new here 7 years ago and didn’t have a lot of time to explain that I was an activist and on a mission from God. I just proceeded forward with the 9 day hunger strike on Palm Canyon against bullying after Seth Walsh was found hanging from a plum tree, marching by foot the rainbow and American flag to the 29 Palms Marine Base and lastly walking across the nation, literally by foot, over 2700 miles with the Rainbow flag on a staff and the American Equality Bill in my back pack. On that trip I spoke to schools about bullying and non-violence, city councils about civil rights and drafted many proclamations with mayors and an activist from New York, declaring LGBT Civil Rights Equality Days in cities such as Oakland, Houston, Salt Lake City and New Orleans, including one on the Oglala Sioux Reservation at Pine Ridge for the Native American 2-spirit and many others calling on a ONE BILL FULL EQUALITY strategy from the big guns in DC.
I was on a mission to end the violation of human rights towards the LGBT community in America and stood ground from both a civil rights position and an international human rights position for equality around the globe. Having gone to India and years of meditation, I had an inner awakening to my true self, called the ATMA, in India. An embodiment of love. God was love and in my heart and anything manifesting in the LGBT community that contradicted that, was unjust and I would have to fight for love and justice with everything I had. And, so I did.
So, when the invitation came in I was being invited by the President to the LGBT Pride Reception at the White House, I was surprised. I loved the timing. As a volunteer in the equality movement, I was ecstatic.
The logistics were tricky as I was meeting a friend in New York City, marching in their LGBT Pride Parade with our banner “SEEK FULL EQUALITY” which means we were seeking a ONE BILL solution in Congress to add sexual orientation (SO) and gender identity (GI) to all of America’s civil rights laws either as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment. Then we were catching the bus to DC. The next morning we were in a briefing with top White House officials on LGBT rights from Department of Education, the office of the US Assistant Attorney General on civil rights and others. After that I had lunch with Native American 2-Spirits, the Pride reception at the White House. In the evening there was a vigil at the MLK Memorial where I was to read the Proclamation I had co-drafted and had signed by our Palm Springs Mayor, Steven Pougnet, declaring July 2nd, the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as LGBT Equality NOW Day. It was awesome. Seldom had I so many things to do in such little time. Before I went back to NYC the next day, I met with the Executive Director of the LGBT Congressional Equality Caucus, Brad Jacklin. We had an official meeting in Congressman David Cicilline’s office to talk about the movement’s strategy and next big step. Then, I was back to New York City and did some civil rights art photography with my IMAGINE 4 WORDS (sexual orientation and gender identity) at Strawberry Fields in Central Park and at and Dakota where John Lennon’s life will always be affectionately remembered.
So, I want to take you back over some of this and lay the official ground work. In 2010, I had run across the American Equality Bill. It was a bill largely ignored by the major organizations in our movement. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act was something they weren’t discussing. The grassroots movement was beginning to. After so many youth suicides I found myself positioned in a moral duty and desire to see this happen. So, I walked across America calling on full equality in civil rights laws. I thought I was going to be murdered or beat up along the highway somewhere. What I found was a nation ready to handle the issues and support them as I presented them. Mayors of US cities signed proclamations, LGBT community centers wrote resolutions in support and the national conversation started to take place, actually shift. GetEQUAL and other grassroots organizations were making the same ask, although more focused on items in the agenda like ENDA and Prop 8 (same sex marriage equality). My mission? Draft, sponsor and get the American Equality Bill on the President’s desk. The painful part was the survival logistics of walking across the US. The HRC and Task Force were non-supportive, my old LGBT Community Center in Los Angeles ignored my requests as well as after many press releases and invites, found myself 100% alone on day one of the national civil rights walk across America. But, the president’s staff was paying attention.
After 15 months I made it all the way across America to a hero’s welcome in Jacksonville, Florida – where their ENTIRE city council had ignored the accomplishment. Right down the street was the center of the Southern Baptist religion as the church owned many city blocks and was heavily tied up in the cities politics and campaigns. It was heartbreaking. But, the LGBT community supported me in the most fabulous welcome a guy could ever wish for. A stage, big screen TV’s playing, speakers all afternoon, vendors. It was fabulous!!!
After all the work to walk across America and declare LGBT Civil Rights Equality Days in proclamation and resolution, often with the gifted and talented pens of our team lawyer, Todd Fernandez, these were the discussions we had with the President and First Lady and the top White House officials in the briefing. The conversation was now at the highest levels of government.
Being in the White House was very presidential. Obama’s hands are larger than life and he actually reminds me of Abraham Lincoln in some deep and profound way. He’s definitely doing for the LGBT community what Lincoln did for the slaves; freeing us. I was so profoundly moved to stand in front of him and shake his hand. Todd was standing next to me and asked him to help file our LGBT Civil Rights Bill, while I spoke to him about the civil rights walk across America. He was quiet and listened and said he wouldn’t stop any such bill if it were filed. His love and respect for his staff was amazing as there was a Hindu prayer hands and bow, not just from one of his staff but from many when they were acknowledged in his speech. The First Lady was very gracious and spent quite a bit of time on the line talking with people in front of the podium. We talked a minute about the walk across America and I don’t know if she was joking or not but challenged herself to do something as physically healthy as walking across America and then suggested I write the White House a letter. I promised I would.
I, of course, showed up in my Tuxedo. I think I was the only one in a Tuxedo. I loved it. I had to follow my heart. There I was with the most amazing president to me personally in my life time. If it hadn’t been for President Obama, I probably would have been found dead on some lonely American highway.
I was floored in the White House library to see George Washington’s sword, the beautiful oil paintings of Lincoln, Clinton and Carter. And Yes, Benjamin Franklin.
When we got up the stairs after several security check points, the Marine band was playing and the champagne was flowing. I, of course had my sparkling water. The food was terrific.
Overall, my wildest dreams came true. They still are. When I returned home, it was posted on the HRC’s web site and all over social media that the Human Rights Campaign, our biggest LGBT civil rights group in Washington DC is now calling on Congress to pass an LGBT civil rights bill in the next session of Congress. A job they have not done. The time has come for all American’s to be protected under federal civil rights laws.
Most of all, and something I usually don’t share with the public is my gratitude towards God who I give complete credit to for anything and everything happening in my life and around me. Every morning I surrender my life to the Great Spirit and in the evening, I give thanks. It may seem a little weird to some folks, but it’s my story. And, thank you Mr. President.