By Wendy Gaylord
Dolores Noll came into my life in July 1974 through the simple, and now nearly unheard of medium, of written letter that proved to be an act of compassion and generosity.
It all started in the latter half of 1974, just months before I graduated from high school in Liberty Township, a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio. After years of truly feeling like I was the only lesbian ever in the history of Ohio, I was bursting to come out. But like most of us in that large closet, I had no idea how to go about it. I was lurking around the edges trying to get information when I decided to do my senior year research paper on homosexuality. This gave me the cover I needed to get information, ostensibly in the most clinical way possible for a 17 year old. (17!)
I was due to start my freshman year at Kent State the following September and I suddenly wondered if there might be a campus group to contact. Lo and behold, I somehow managed to get my hands on the April edition of the Daily Kent Stater that had a huge article on the emerging gay rights movement, complete with photos of Dolores and 3 different couples. God only knows how many times I read those articles but we can all imagine the sudden relief I felt at finally knowing I wasn’t alone.
It was stunning to read about people who were living open, free lives. Anyhow, one of the profiles was of a couple, Lorraine and Gina, so I decided to write to them “for my research.” By the time my letter found its way to the KGLF office, and in a lovely twist of fate, Lorraine and Gina were gone and Dolores intercepted it. She took the time to write back to me. It was obvious that she saw right through me because she invited me to visit her during my orientation week in the coming July. I must have read her letter a million times while also being very careful to keep it hidden. It was that moment of fear and anticipation that kept my heart rate up for the next couple of months.
That fateful day in July when I met her was the beginning of a unique mentorship…. but not before she took the time to get me out of a basic English course that she said I didn’t need. She showed me around campus, took me to her office and introduced me to her then-lover (the term we used back then), Deborah Core, another member of the English Department. It was so normal for her to be living so openly and calling Deb “honey” and I was flabbergasted. She could see how excited I was, and when I said I was going to go home and come out to my parents that very evening, she didn’t so much dissuade me as much as try to get me to calm down enough to drive safely and to ask myself if I was really ready to come out to them. Having met her and Deb that day there was no turning back.
It turns out that coming out to my mother in particular was excruciating and Dolores coached me through the difficult times that ensued.
Dolores was a Chaucer-loving, dry-witted, compassionate, intelligent, big-hearted warrior for justice. While all of us started wearing our gay rights buttons and t-shirts, she wore one that said “Chaucer Lives.” She and Deb had me over for dinner one night and it was just like that moment from the Neil Diamond version of The Jazz Singer when she placed a great big ham on the table, paused for a moment as we locked eyes, and she said, “Here….Jew.”
She is likely a significant milestone in the lives of many and I know you share my gratitude just for having known her.
It seems fitting to end with a Chaucer quote that, for all I know, is what drew her to him: “Forbid us something, and that thing we desire.”
Wendy and her mother — a great woman who I adored and eventually became a solid LGBT ally — later spoke together about their experience in the book Now That You Know: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children by Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward. It was published in 1979 and is available at Amazon.