The untimely passing of Dr. Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in space, teacher, mentor, and scientist, struck a chord in many Americans this week. Those of us fortunate enough to have been able to witness that memorable shuttle mission in 1983, will not forget the thrill of seeing a woman achieve so much. Dr. Ride’s contributions through her service to this country as an astronaut and educator can never be truly measured. Those who break barriers are priceless in our society, opening doors for untold thousands who follow in their footsteps.
But, we now know that there was another, equally important side to Dr. Ride. She was a lesbian who had a committed partner of over 27 years. The fact that Sally Ride chose not to come out publicly during her lifetime was a personal decision that I respect and do not judge. Her partner, Tam O’Shaugnessy, was rightly identified as Ride’s partner of 27 years in a statement released by Sally Ride Science. I have to assume that O’Shaugnessy, the CEO of Sally Ride Science, made the decision to release that information to the public for reasons of her own. Ride’s sister made this statement: “The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there’s now this advocate that they didn’t know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same.” She added, “I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”
According to Ride’s sister, Sally never hid her relationship. She simply lived her life, choosing not to make a public statement about her sexual orientation. People will say that she could have helped more LGBT kids if she had come out during her lifetime. That’s a subject for another debate. What is not in dispute, however, is that Sally Ride’s life is yet another example of a LGBT person living a stellar life as a positive role model. Sally Ride’s legacy now includes being a role model for LGBT people everywhere, and that is fitting, because it forces those who perpetuate bigotry to pause in their assertions that we are denigrating society. It takes another important step toward showing GLBT people as contributing members of our society.
Ride’s family made the announcement knowing the importance of the statement. It’s understandable for members of our community to lament that she didn’t make a public statement in her lifetime, but what is important is Ride’s legacy, which will live on. Sally Ride: astronaut, scientist, educator, and lesbian. By living a stellar life, Dr. Ride made the fact that she’s a lesbian just one more part of her outstanding legacy.
Thank you, Sally, for breaking another barrier. Ride on.