Even with florida's summer sun bearing down, the politicians and well-connected gays gathered around the crystalline pool of a bed-and-breakfast in West Palm Beach were too caught up in networking, flirting, and the collective excitement over that evening's Stonewall Ball to fret over the heat. Amid all the chatter, the party's guest of honor, Elaine Noble, entered the pool area by herself through a side door.
The former Massachusetts state representative introduced herself to me, regretting the decision upon realizing she was shaking the hand of a reporter. She didn't want to talk about why she traveled from her home in the Florida panhandle to lend her name to a charity, something she doesn't typically do. The press and gay groups have been trying to get Noble out of the house for a while, especially after Gus Van Sant's Milk came out last year. When elected to the Massachusetts house in 1974, Noble became the first openly gay person elected to state-level office -- three years before Harvey Milk became a San Francisco city supervisor.
When I mentioned it's been 35 years since her historic election, she said, "It has?" before looking over her shoulder for an escape plan.
Noble hasn't attended schmoozefests like this for years -- she's been out of politics since 1979. But at the Pride gala, which benefited the Palm Beach area's LGBT center, Compass, Noble showed she could still work a crowd. After explaining to the audience that it was a favor that brought her to Palm Beach -- Compass CEO Tony Plakas's partner has a home next to the ranch Noble shares with her partner -- she ordered the youths who frequent Compass to the front of the room.
"You need to support our young family members," she told the audience. "I'm stepping up to the plate too. I'll be asking you for money, and listen, I'm an old, tired lesbian." Attendees, previously in rapt silence, convulsed in laughter.
When The Advocate asked Plakas for five minutes with Noble, he declined. He's protective of the 65-year-old, saying she's been scarred by her time in office. Noble has said before that she was spit on by constituents and had feces left on her office desk.
But Noble's appearance at the center was a success: She pulled in ample donations. Could she begin raking in the dough at HRC dinners? Talking on the phone a few weeks after the party, she was relaxed and friendly, saying, "I certainly would consider other fund-raisers. Though I grumbled about Palm Beach, it enriched my life."