Noble, Elaine

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NOBLE, Elaine

NOBLE, Elaine (22 February 1944–), legislator.

In November 1974, Elaine Noble won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, thereby becoming the second openly lesbian or gay candidate to win electoral office in the United States and the first to do so at the state level. (In Ann Arbor, Michigan, openly lesbian Kathy Kozachenko won a city council seat in April of that year, six months after sitting councilors Nancy Wechsler and Jerry deGrieck had come out.) In 1961, Jose Sarria had been the first openly gay person to run for electoral office, and a full decade passed before Frank Kameny in Washington, D.C., became the second. Inspired in part by Noble's victory, Minnesota State Senator Allan Spear came out as gay in late 1974. But at the decade's end, fewer than ten individuals held electoral office in the United States while fully out as lesbian or gay.

Noble was born in Pennsylvania, her father a longtime union and civil rights activist. Her schooling took her to Boston University, Emerson College, and Harvard University. While later teaching at Emerson, she became active in sexual diversity politics. In the early 1970s, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and the National Organization for Women (NOW), speaking out against anti-lesbian sentiments within NOW. She addressed hundreds of participants at Boston's first official gay pride march, in 1971, and a year or two later broadened her profile by coproducing and moderating the weekly radio show "Gaywire."

In 1972, Noble became a leader of the Women's Political Caucus and campaigned for Barney Frank's successful

race for a seat in the state House. In 1974, she won a Democratic nomination for her own seat, in Boston's Back Bay area. This nomination came in the midst of a furor over school busing, and Noble remained outspoken on the side of desegregation.

Noble won the November election with a comfortable majority and became a national celebrity among LGB people. She fought hard to avoid being labeled a single issue politician, an image that almost all openly LGB candidates had to combat in the years to follow. Alongside Barney Frank, she worked hard, but unsuccessfully, to secure passage of a sexual orientation anti-discrimination bill. She also responded to countless requests for help on sexual orientation issues arising in her own district and far beyond. In 1977, she was in the first LGB delegation to ever meet with officials at the White House.

In the same year, the standard-bearing pressures on Noble increased as Anita Bryant began spearheading religious right campaigning against nondiscrimination measures. She felt increasingly that the LGB community was unrealistic and unrelenting in its demands on her and quick to condemn what were perceived as shortcomings—that she did not devote even more time than she did to sexual diversity causes. As others in her footsteps would discover, she faced great difficulties in balancing her roles as a district representative and as a spokesperson for a marginalized community that extended far beyond her district boundaries.

In 1978, Noble decided against running for reelection, partly from disillusionment, and also because major redistricting would pit her against Barney Frank, as well as put her in a disadvantaged position. Noble reentered electoral politics in 1980, trying unsuccessfully to gain the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. She worked in the administration of Boston Mayor Kevin White, which soon was entangled in a corruption scandal. She was not one of the accused, but it still dealt her political career a serious blow.

In the following years Noble retained an interest in health issues, cofounding a LGB alcohol and drug treatment center in Minneapolis and trying unsuccessfully to establish similar institutions in the Boston area. In 1991 and again in 1993, she ran for a city council seat in Cambridge, across the Charles River from her one-time electoral district, but lost both times. Noble then began working in mutual fund management, and for a time in the mid-and late 1990s, she managed the Meyers Pride Value Fund, which invested in firms with pro-LGB records.

Noble's pioneering entry into legislative politics was weighted with the aspirations of a community that was in those early days beyond the fringe of the formal political process. At times, she was a victim of the tendency for those on the margins to "eat their own," and she spoke out against that pattern. She found herself buffeted by competing and sometimes incompatible pressures, still a common experience of elected representatives who come from marginalized communities.


DeBold, Kathleen. Out for Office: Campaigning in the Gay Nineties. Washington, D.C.: Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, 1994.

Rayside, David. On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Thompson, Mark. Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

Yeager, Ken. Trailblazers: Profiles of America's Gay and Lesbian Elected Officials. New York: Haworth, 1999.

David Rayside

see alsoboston; frank, barney; democratic party; electoral politics.