Local Matters With House District 83 Candidate Noah Nordstrom

Openly queer school teacher and House District 83 candidate Noah Nordstrom makes the personal political

I first met Noah at the Focus Awards last year. While mingling, I spotted a tall blonde man whose head towered above the crowd and had to say hello. Noah then introduced me to the brilliant Brandon Washington, 20, the youngest City Council candidate to ever run in Memphis.

“I’m his campaign manager,” said Noah. “But, I’m interested in running myself.”

A person of determination, often inspired by Memphis locals, Noah Nordstrom announced his run for House District 83 a few months later. The Memphis-Shelby City School Spanish teacher grew up in southern Illinois, but has happily called Tennessee home for a while.

Noah Nordstrom stands with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
Noah Nordstrom with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris

“I grew up in the Carbondale area, but around 14, we moved to Knoxville where I went to high school,” he shared.

Noah connected the bridge between his upbringing and current political journey, “I went to a Christian school that was very against homosexuality. Coming out was very hard and meant I had to support myself starting at 18. [Representative] Gloria Johnson and my political network embraced me during that time.” 

Nordstrom briefly moved to Mexico to teach English after highschool, before returning to Johnson City, TN and living in various parts of the state thereafter. 

“When I decided to come back to the U.S. to finish my degree, I knew I wanted to continue in education so I could make an impact on people’s lives,” he said.

Noah hopes to be one of the few openly LGBT representatives in the Tennessee State House. In fact, his focus on issues uniquely affecting Tennessee like education reform, social reform, immigrant rights, clean energy, and anti-LGBT laws helped motivate Nordstrom’s run in the first place. 

More specifically, Noah’s time in the MSCS system has greatly inspired his run, as well as his political views on school voucher programs. Noah explains the vouchers as, essentially, a discount for families. Within these programs, the state allocates $7,000 to each family for education costs. 

“This money will come out of our already limited school funding, which was not the initial proposal,” he lamented. “Recent bills, if passed, will allow that.”

His major concern is that $7,000 is “way below most private school tuitions in Tennessee.” The average tuition is about $12,000, leaving $5,000 to be paid out-of-pocket. 

“That’s not realistic for those families in need of these programs,” Noah explained. 

Having worked in Title 1 schools, which cater to lower-income or impoverished families, Noah speaks from experience and knowledge of these families’ financial problems. 

Noah Nordstrom wear read as he speaks on a mic on the steps of Capitol Hill in front of a dozen other community members
Noah Nordstrom at a speaking engagement

“The families who will benefit,” he told me, “can already afford private schools. Look at Arizona—where this program is in effect—70-80% of the recipients are families who already use private schools.”

Another item on Noah’s agenda will be a high-speed rail system that could connect all of Tennessee. 

“I went to college in [east Tennessee],” he told me, “so I certainly know both sides of this state. Being such a large state, we seem so divided. But, I’m certain once we unite our cities, we can unite our people.”

When asked about other ways Noah hopes to unite Tennesseans, we explored recent challenges to LGBT rights. Noah explained how having more LGBT people represented in the government can help speak to current discrimination.

“We’re not at the table,” said Noah, “but we’re certainly on the menu. The other side of the aisle likes to paint our community as perverts and predators. But, many of us are just people trying to better our city. All I ever want to do is teach your kids proper Spanish, not convert them.”

He went on to share some of the current anti-queer laws being raised, “Right now, there are some other anti-LGBT measures being introduced, such as teachers being coerced to ‘out’ their students to that student’s families. That right there is a clear invasion of privacy for the student, and may, in some cases, bring violence to that child. I want all children to feel safe and be safe in the classroom.”

Anti-LGBT laws in Tennessee continue to challenge people in other aspects as well. Like with the House Bill 9, known colloquially as the Anti-Drag Bill, stopped in at least Shelby County.

Noah Nordstrom with community member. Both wear blue and hold a sign that reads "I'm registered to vote. Are you?"
Noah Nordstrom with community member

While in college, Noah joined up with a drag troupe to stage a performance in protest of the Anti-Drag Bill.

“During that show, I played [TN Republican Senator] Marsha Blackburn in drag, doing a comedy act and a performance,” he shared.

Noah’s event, attended by author and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, was covered by the Washington Post and Independent UK, making it international news and further highlighting the severity of a reality where performances like Noah’s might be considered illegal. 

On the topic of outreach and what we as a community can do to make our voices heard (besides voting), Noah said, “We need more local voices showing up to school board meetings and council meetings. If you can come to a public forum and make your voice heard, that can work just as well as voting. But of course, also, get out and vote! Voices and votes work, especially locally.”

Noah added, “Your representatives are a lot more accessible than you realize…The biggest change we can make comes down to neighbors working with neighbors—They can only divide us if we stay divided.”

All images provided by courtesy Noah Nordstrom.

Voting begins in early August. You can find Noah Nordstrom on social media under @nordstromfortn

Focus Mid-South Magazine does not endorse political candidates.

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