I'm working on a final post on this later. Meanwhile, three emails that stood out to me in the in-tray:
You are both wrong and being a bit of a jerk about it. Sally Ride came up in a really sexist world. I'll let women at NASA chime in definitively, but last I heard it's still a pretty darn retro place to be female. She remained in various roles that were NASA/government related. She was also a physics professor, another realm that is not a bastion of female dominance. Finally, she promoted Middle School science study – particularly to girls – through her foundation.
She wasn't trying to reach girls in the progressive elite; she was trying to reach girls who might even be growing up in less accepting parts of society (remember the Boy Scouts haven't quite moved forward on this one). Just by being a brilliant, talented, accomplished scientist, she presented a great role model for women and girls. She was famous for breaking barriers for women.
Had she made a public issue of her sexuality, she could very easily have lost those opportunities, or had her accomplishments downplayed by a very retrograde establishment. We may not have heard of her at all. Instead, she did what she did, did it well, and encouraged girls to follow in her footsteps. I think the problem with your argument is that you are underestimating the challenges and difficulties women face in a men's world. Taking that on is plenty, and taking on another "difference" may be enough to jeopardize the whole enterprise.
As a young gay woman in STEM, I'm not ducking or covering. I had no idea who Sally Ride was until yesterday, but I appreciate her and her passion for women in STEM now.
A final one:
On one hand, you say "I believe it is a person's private decision" and "There could have been immense, career-ending difficulties. But civil rights heroes face those difficulties down." Fine. But then you start tossing out "coward" and "AWOL".
OK, so Ms. Ride was not a civil rights hero on this issue. But there is a lot of space between "hero" and "coward". It's a place where most of us spend most of our time, and where we stand on most issues.
Would the world be a better place if more people were heroes? Probably. But denunciations of cowardice (which is what your comments sound like), just because someone was not a hero on an issue you care about, are unwarranted. And all of us who have not risen to heroism are going to get our backs up as a result, because we don't relish a world in which heroism is demanded at all times. And that is what, whether deliberately or not, you are doing: demanding heroism.
It is, may I suggest, counterproductive. Better to celebrate those who are heroes. And leave accusations of cowardice to the occasions where they are warranted by more than a mere absence of heroism.
(Photo: Torchbearer Sally Ride carries the Olympic Flame during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay in San Diego, California on January 14, 2002:. By Todd Warshaw/Pool/Getty Images)