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Elaine Noble: The first lesbian state lawmaker

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Elaine Noble

Elaine Noble: The first lesbian state lawmaker

If you’re feeling hopeless with our current crop of legislators in Congress, consider Elaine Noble– the first out lesbian elected to state legislature– and be inspired.

Elaine Noble made US election history even before Maura Healey, Harvey, Milk, or Tammy Baldwin as she was elected as representative of the Boston district in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974.

Prior to this, no out lesbian (or gay man, for that matter), had won a state-level office. So when she did run for the position, she faced an overwhelming wave of homophobic threats.

Elaine Noble: A politically-active life

Elaine was born in January 22, 1944 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. She received a Fine Arts degree in Boston University in 1966, and then studied speech and education at Emerson College and Harvard University.

From 1966 to 1974, she worked as a speech instructor and as an advertising manager for Sweetheart Plastics. However, she was out as a lesbian by this time and organizing for the LGBT community.

She was involved in Boston’s earliest Pride marches and protested against Locke-Ober, a prestigious restaurant in the city that prohibited women from eating in the bar.

Then she was pushed to run for office under the Democratic Party by political activist Ann Lewis, the sister of gay political pioneer, Barney Frank.

Elaine Noble: The first US lesbian congresswoman

“We had helped form the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and at that time we were trying to find women to run,” Elaine explained to journalist Larry Nichols in a 2007 interview.

“I said I don’t know if I’m electable, being gay,” she said. Fortunately, Frank’s mother and sister convinced her and she agreed to run.

With 59 percent of the vote, she won a seat in the state legislature for the Fenway and Back Bay neighborhood districts of Boston in 1974.

This wasn’t an easy thing to do. She said: “I was elected in a largely Irish Catholic town. I was elected in spite of being gay.”

“In the height of desegregation in Boston, I was riding on the buses with children of color. The gay community was just as racist as the straight community. So I had a lot of issues around race,” she said.

Elaine Noble: Milestone for the LGBT community

Prior to Elaine’s election, lesbian Nancy Wechsler had been elected on the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council in the 1970s. Wechsler was later replaced by another lesbian, Kathy Kozachenko, in 1974.

Because of Elaine’s victory as the first openly gay person elected at the state level (and her subsequent re-election in 1976), she inspired others to come out.

For example, there was Minnesota state senator Allan Spear and the late San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk.

Elaine said she understood what happened with Milk, given the number of threats that she got.

“You suffer enough bomb threats and craziness with people shooting through your windows and doing damage to your cars and it just escalates,” she said.

Elaine Noble: Battles with and for the LGBT community

Ironically, the hardest battles she fought were also with the LGBT community, as she constantly felt burdened and frustrated by their demands.

“The gay community expected me to be on call 24 hours a day. It was like they felt they owned me,” she said in an interview with Sasha Gregory-Lewis.

These battles left her drained and she didn’t run for a third term. At that time, her political career had already cost her relationship with author Rita Mae Brown in 1976.

Likewise, redistricting in Massachusetts had placed her in the same district against her friend, Barney Frank, and she didn’t want to run against him.

She did run for the US Senate and the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council but both attempts failed. Afterward, she set up the Pride Institute, an LGBT-support drug and alcohol treatment center in Minneapolis.

Currently, she lives in Florida where she’s worked in real estate and education. She’s also active with the local Democratic Party.

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