Elaine Noble, Massachusetts, 1974
Elaine Noble (D)
Born January 22, 1944
State Representative, District 6
Elected November 1974
Interview with Elaine Noble for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: As the first out gay person in the country elected to a state legislature, you made history. What was that like?
A: I think I have a better perspective on it the farther away I get from it. I’m not sure even today that I really understand the ramifications of it and I certainly didn’t at the time because I viewed myself as taking a step forward that would be helpful to gay folks, but I viewed it as being elected in spite of being gay, not because of it. Now people get elected because they are gay as well as other characteristics. Kind of nice.
It was a very ugly campaign. Ugly. There was a lot of shooting through my windows, destroying my car, breaking windows at my campaign headquarters, serious harassment of people visiting my house and campaign office – it was really bad. I talk to the election commissioner every once in a while, he’s now retired now, and he still remembers it as one of the ugliest ever seen in the city of Boston.
Q: How did your colleagues receive you when you made it to the House?
A: A lot of harassment at first. But then they saw I was serious. It was ugly too; I had to deal with human feces left in my desk and a lot of obscene profanities. I just tried to maintain with what level of dignity that I could.
Q: How were things by your second campaign?
A: Well, I won by almost 90 percent of the vote, so things had quieted down somewhat. I helped create the first Ethics Committee and served on it, and put together a package of legislation that I cared about. The one thing that I wasn’t able to get was a gay rights bill, and it took about another 10 years to get that. That was one thing I deeply cared about. But, I worked toward it in the ensuing years and was delighted when it did finally go through.
Q: What was the biggest issue you dealt with that also stirred up controversy?
A: The biggest issue probably was that Boston was in the height of desegregation of schools. As an educator, I decided to use all my campaign folks – I said they did not have to participate – but I decided that the school pick-ups and drop-offs for children in my district were going to be manned in person by my campaign volunteers. And because I believed in desegregation of schools and equality for all, and I believed that politics was about putting yourself on the line for what you believed in, I was the only White member of the Boston delegation that would ride on the buses with the children.
For that I looked like I was breaking with the tribe and was resoundingly punished not only by members of the Boston delegation who would stand up on the House floor and say regarding my legislation, “This is a Noble bill and she believes in forced busing so anybody who doesn’t believe in forced busing should vote against this bill.” That was a little rocky. And members of the gay community who were, lets just say, who weren’t enlightened and were as racist as other folks got very nervous and thought, as one reporter for the only gay newspaper said to me, “You should stick to your own kind or we’re going to get someone else to represent us.” And I said, “Well, I believe, David, I am sticking with my own kind.” Its as a lot of things still stand – you can’t say that you want progress or change for one group and not for another. It doesn’t happen that way.
Q: Any reflections on how things have changed since you were in office?
A: Well, schools have become desegregated in Boston, the quality of education is better, the gay community is a lot more open minded about race issues though it has a long way to go on those issues I think. And we’ve gotten more open-minded around women’s issues – when I was first active in Boston there was a group called the Homophile Union of Boston, and myself and two other women were told we could serve on the Board, but we couldn’t vote. Men could vote in the Homophile Union of Boston, which is why we chose to go work with Daughters of Bilitis. So, those kinds of things have changed, a lot. Very different back then.