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Lucas: Healey following Noble path


Maura Healey was just three years old when Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

That was back in 1974.

It was then that Noble, 30, paving the way, became the first openly gay woman elected to the Massachusetts Legislature or to any other public office in the state.

Next month Healey, 51, the two-term attorney general, will be sworn in as not only the first elected woman governor of Massachusetts, but the first openly gay woman governor as well.

Healey, whether she knows it or not, owes a lot to Noble. Noble broke much of the ground that Healey is walking on.

It all started with Elaine Noble when, overcoming a number of ugly incidents, was elected to the House from Boston’ Back Bay/Fenway District.  Her home was vandalized, her car trashed, her campaign headquarters attacked, and she got death threats daily.

No openly gay person had ever run before. But she did and she won.

The campaign harassment she went through unfortunately continued, although to a lesser degree,  even after Noble arrived at the State House to be sworn in by first term Gov. Michael Dukakis. Being the first can be difficult.

The Massachusetts House at that time was a more raucous institution than the relatively sedate body that it is today. So was the State House.

In 1974 the House was made up of 240 members and not the 160 it is today. It was difficult to control. It was a male dominated institution functioning at a time when diversity was only a word in the dictionary, and gay people were routinely discriminated against.

Elaine Noble’s election changed a lot of things. She was young, articulate, outspoken and attractive, and she took no guff from anyone, politicians and reporters included.

She was a graduate of Boston University with a master’s degree in education from Harvard.

She soon won the support of many of her colleagues when they found that while she was elected as an openly gay woman, that alone did not define her.

She rode on school buses with children during the Boston school busing controversy, for instance, angering some gays who thought she should concentrate solely on gay issues.

Perhaps as a joke, tough talking House Speaker Tommy McGee, a World War II combat veteran, assigned Noble a seat in the House chamber beside Rep. Joe DeNucci of Newton, a former professional middleweight boxer. He was the most macho man in the House.

People waited for fireworks. None happened.

Instead, DeNucci was captivated by her wit, intelligence, and demeanor. They bonded and became the best of friends after DeNucci discovered – as others did–how bright and committed Noble was to the liberal issues that they both agreed upon.

Noble, who served two terms in the House, was in 1977 part of the first delegation of gay men and women invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter to discuss LGBTQ community issues.

Instead of running for a third term, Noble ran for the U. S. Senate, losing in the 1978 Democrat primary, coming in fifth in a contest won by U.S. Rep. Paul Tsongas who later defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Edward W. Brooke.

Noble later worked in the administration of the late Boston Mayor Kevin White.

Looking back at her election to the House, Noble surmised that she was elected “in spite of being gay, not because of it. She said, “ Now people get elected because they are gay as well as (having) other characteristics. How nice.”

Noble did not have Healey in mind when she made those comments long ago.

Healey, given the times, the circumstances and her weak Republican opponent would have been elected governor anyway, gay or not.

But Noble showed the way.

Healey, in recognition, should have at least named Noble, now 78 and living in Florida, to one of her half dozen transition committees.

If it is too late for that, Healey should honor her by inviting her to the inauguration.

It would be the noble thing to do.

Peter Lucas is a veteran Massachusetts political reporter and columnist.


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