Elaine Noble life and biography

Elaine Noble picture, image, poster

Elaine Noble biography

Date of birth : 1944-01-22
Date of death : -
Birthplace : New Kensington, Pennsylvania, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-08-26
Credited as : Politician, gay rights activist,

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Ruth Elaine Noble is a woman defined by adjectives. It is hard to read anything about her without the qualifier "the first openly lesbian state representative in U.S. history" somewhere in the same sentence. After her political career ended, "controversial" was added to the appellation.

Noble was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, on 22 January 1944. A graduate of Boston University with a BSA degree, she also holds graduate degrees in speech and education from Emerson College and Harvard University. However, it is mostly as a political pioneer that Noble is remembered. While not the first open lesbian voted into office (Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council in early 1994), Noble was the first openly gay person to win election to a state legislature. In November of 1974 she ran for the Massachusetts House of Representatives from Boston's Back Bay; she won with 59 percent of the vote. Yet, winning and being a pioneer had its price.

She was confronted with homophobic slurs from heterosexuals and often chided by gays and lesbians for not fulfilling all of their expectations. In a massive redistricting plan, her district merged with Beacon Hill, and she decided not to stand for reelection, allowing (now Congressman) Barney Frank to run for (and win) the new seat in 1978. In an interview with Sasha Gregory-Lewis, found in Mark Thompson's Long Road to Freedom, Noble explained why she would not run again: "The gay community expected me to be on call 24 hours a day. It was like they felt they owned me ... I think the level of self-hate now among gay people is so damn high ... They can't hit the straight world, they can't swing at the straight world, so they swing at the person who's nearest to them." She spoke about the burden of being the first and only openly gay member of the state legislature: "I'm not sure that I want to run for public office if I have to carry the heavy burden that I've had to carry from the gay community. One of the things that's got to happen is that there's got to be more gay people who are going to take on part of that burden, or at least help."

But Noble did run again. She ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1980, losing in the primary to Paul Tsongas. She ran twice for a seat on the Cambridge city council (1991 and 1993) and lost both times. But by that time the new adjective "controversial" began to overshadow her pioneer status. After leaving elected office, she landed a job in the intergovernmental affairs office of Boston Mayor Kevin White. It was during this time that she became tangled up in an FBI sting of the White administration. The confusing episode reads like a breathless Lillian Hellman memoir: it involved another city official named Williams and his attempt to extort money from a real estate developer known as Kelly (who was actually an FBI agent named D'Alesandro). Kelly told Noble he was gay and offered to help her find a house in return for her assistance with a proposal for the development of a piece of property. The proposal was not going well however, and Noble claimed that Kelly took out a gun at one point and told her of a pay-out to Williams. During the ensuing publicity, she made the headline-grabbing statement: "Why do business with princes when you can deal with kings?"

She testified for 19 hours before a federal grand jury. Noble herself was not accused of anything, but the matter did put an effective end to her political career. In an interview with the Boston Globe Noble recalled: "I chose not to take the fifth ... Now I would take the fifth if they asked me what I wanted for breakfast. I thought I did nothing wrong. I would tell the truth. I practically went through menopause in that place."

She left the White administration and set up a health care consulting business--Noble Associates. She, along with Ellen Ratner, founded the Pride Institute in Minneapolis, a gay and lesbian alcohol and drug treatment center. Noble tried to establish a similar facility in Boston, but was twice rebuffed (first in Waltham and then in Cambridge). It was this setback in East Cambridge that caused her to run again for public office. In November of 1994 Middlesex County Hospital hired her as their top administrator. This appeared to be a last-ditch effort to save a failing institution. Noble was unable to turn things around and stepped down, under pressure, six months later.

Despite professional and personal setbacks, Elaine Noble has always managed to keep a sense of who she is and deliver any message with acerbic wit. During her 1993 campaign for the Cambridge city council, a supporter discovered a Noble campaign sign torn from her lawn and the letters d-i-k-e scratched into her car. Commented Noble to the Boston Globe: "What offended us most is that they misspelled dyke."

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