Noble Is First Out Lesbian or Gay Person to Win State-Level Election Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts General Assembly, making her the first out lesbian or gay individual to be elected as a state official in the United States. She served two terms and has been a model for lesbians and gays seeking political office.

Summary of Event

Elaine Noble, born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, obtained a BSA degree from Boston University and graduate degrees in speech and education from Emerson College and Harvard University. She came out as a lesbian in the 1960’s while teaching at Boston colleges and was a founding member of the Boston chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. Later, she produced one of the first national gay and lesbian radio programs, the Gay Way. Noble also served as director of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, lobbied the state legislature on behalf of women’s issues, and further served on the Massachusetts governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. [kw]Noble Is First Out Lesbian or Gay Person to Win State-Level Election (Nov. 5, 1974) [kw]Out Lesbian or Gay Person to Win State-Level Election, Noble Is First (Nov. 5, 1974) [kw]Lesbian or Gay Person to Win State-Level Election, Noble Is First Out (Nov. 5, 1974) [kw]Gay Person to Win State-Level Election, Noble Is First Out Lesbian or (Nov. 5, 1974) [kw]State-Level Election, Noble Is First Out Lesbian or Gay Person to Win (Nov. 5, 1974) [kw]Election, Noble Is First Out Lesbian or Gay Person to Win State-Level (Nov. 5, 1974) Politicians;lesbian [c]Government and politics;Nov. 5, 1974: Noble Is First Out Lesbian or Gay Person to Win State-Level Election[1070] Noble, Elaine

At a National Organization for Women conference Noble spoke against antilesbian sentiments within the group. In 1971, she addressed Boston’s first official gay and lesbian pride march. She has distinguished herself in community work, addressing issues to many communities, and has a reputation for being tough, articulate, and outgoing.

Noble ran for the Massachusetts General Assembly from Boston’s Back Bay district on a multi-issue platform in 1974. Her campaign in the Democratic primary and in the general election was comprised of friends along with gay, lesbian, and heterosexual community activists. Many were new and inexperienced in the ways of Boston’s old boys’ political network. Noble’s campaign was a true grassroots, amateur, political undertaking.

Noble’s opponent in the general election was Joseph P. Cimino, co-owner of a chain of singles’ bars known as Daisy Buchanan’s. Noble, on the opposite side of the political spectrum, had been active with local residents trying to control the number of bars in the neighborhood. Stressing her community work, being outspoken for desegregation in Boston, and working to ease tensions rather than politicking helped Noble win the election on November 5, 1974.

Noble became the first lesbian state legislator in the United States and the second elected to public office in the nation. Kathy Kozachenko, also a lesbian, won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council earlier the same year. Ironically, Boston’s gay and lesbian community did not wholeheartedly embrace Noble. Many, though, had ideas of what she should be and how she should lead.

During her two terms of office, Noble worked diligently on behalf of her constituents, regardless of their sexual orientation. In 1976, she supported statewide sodomy reform legislation that became inaccurately described as a gay rights bill. No other legislators stood to support or debate the bill. Noble requested a roll call vote be taken but could not obtain the minimum vote to approve the bill.

The following year, Noble was part of an LGBT delegation called to meet with officials of the administration of then-president Jimmy Carter. That same year, she, along with twenty-one other representatives and six state senators, sponsored the Massachusetts Public Service Employment measure. The bill would have provided employment protections to gays and lesbians at the state level. The measure stated merely that discrimination in Massachusetts civil service positions would be prohibited based on sexual orientation, but the bill was not passed in the Massachusetts legislature.

Noble’s two terms of office did see major achievements for her and her Boston constituency. She helped deliver to her district funding for major street lighting programs and rent control and pro-tenant legislation, and she helped to establish an Equal Rights Amendment commission.

In 1978, Noble decided against running for a third term, a decision based, in part, on disillusionment, unrealistic and unrelenting demands from the lesbian and gay community, and a massive redistricting in Boston, which would put her at a disadvantage running against Barney Frank. She was caught between the demands of the legislative role and expectations of impatient activists. Noble created more scorn from lesbian-separatists by urging LGBT and women’s involvement in electoral politics. As Noble stated, “I had not only more work, but got more flack, more criticism, more heartache from the gay community than from the people who elected me.” She also reminded people that a politician has to deal with a wide variety of issues in office, and that once one takes on a specific issue or set of issues, that focus can become a political death sentence.

Noble ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1980, but lost to political newcomer Paul Tsongas. She twice ran unsuccessfully for the Cambridge city council in 1991 and 1993. Outside the political arena, she worked in Boston mayor Kevin White’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. She was entangled in an investigation of Mayor White’s administration by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Noble testified for nearly nineteen hours before a federal grand jury but was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The investigation, however, ended her political career.

Always the politician, she continued to fight behind the scenes for human rights causes. She played a pivotal role in helping gay Boston city councillor David Scondras obtain passage of the city’s ban against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. She was also responsible for the creation of the Boston Gay Liaison Office, which provides a deputy mayor to the LGBT community.

During the early 1980’s, Noble cofounded Pride Institute, Pride Institute an alcohol and drug treatment center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serving LGBT clients. She also tried to establish similar centers in Waltham and Cambridge, Massachusetts, but was turned down. She also helped to establish the Pride Value Fund, Pride Value Fund a gay and lesbian investment fund.

Significance

Undoubtedly, Elaine Noble encouraged gays and lesbians to run for political office, including Minnesota state senator Alan Spears, Minnesota state representative Karen Clark, and others around the country. She also eloquently pointed out the demands of being not only the voice of the constituency but also, more important, the gay and lesbian community at large. In essence, she revealed the value and power of the LGBT vote. Politicians;lesbian

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blasius, Mark. Gay and Lesbian Politics: Sexuality and the Emergence of a New Ethic. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hertzog, Mark. The Lavender Vote: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals in American Electoral Politics. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mixner, David, and Dennis Bailey. Brave Journeys: Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage. New York: Bantam Books, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Phillips, Susan. “A Stormy Passage: The Noble Bill.” The Advocate, June 27, 1977, 11-12.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rayside, David. On the Fringe: Gays and Lesbians in Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rowland, Craig. “Women in Politics: Elaine Noble.” The Advocate, December 11, 1984, 34, 36-37.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yeager, Ken. Trailblazers: Profiles of America’s Gay and Lesbian Elected Officials. New York: Haworth Press, 1999.

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November 6, 1984: West Hollywood Incorporates with Majority Gay and Lesbian City Council

May 30, 1987: U.S. Congressman Frank Comes Out as Gay

September 23, 1992: Massachusetts Grants Family Rights to Gay and Lesbian State Workers

May 24, 1993: Achtenberg Becomes Assistant Housing Secretary

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Court Rules for Same-Gender Marriage

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