America’s First Woman In Space Was A Lesbian, Ctd


The in-tray and our Facebook page are flooded with dissents against this post:

You list the numerous accomplishments of Sally Ride and then deride her for not having also fought for your pet cause? She hits 10 out of 10 on the lifetime achievement scale and you berate her because she didn't turn it up to 11. Good grief. How many crusades does one have to be on the forefront of before Andrew says, "Ok, I guess that's good enough."

Civil rights are not my "pet cause." They are civil rights. Would a heterosexual denied the right to marry regard securing it as a "pet cause"? Another:

Geez Andrew, you need to cut Sally Ride some slack.  She made her career in a type-A, patriotic organization with strong ties to the military.  Of course it was hyper-macho and homophobic.  27 years ago was 1985 and the closet was pretty damn full, for better or for worse. You haven't forgotten how bad it was in the military even five years ago, have you?

In 1985, the closet was not full of people who were dying of AIDS. They had no closet left. Hundreds of thousands were about to die, in a period where countering fear and bigotry became literally a way to save lives. In 1985, Billie Jean King had been openly lesbian for four years. Another:

I worked at NASA at Kennedy Space Center during the first three launches of the Shuttle program involved with retrieval of the boosters used to launch the shuttle. I'm gay, and was not out back then. This was Florida in the early '80s, and it felt more like the late '60s. The N-word was still prevalent. It was also a government funded operation, the Air Force was the major player, and everyone is an engineer. Being out was not an option. And all these years later, Florida hasn't changed its attitude that much, so I doubt the testosterone-charged atmosphere at NASA did either.

I'm struck by the notion that "being out was not an option." Sure it was. It is always an option. A truly difficult option, but an option. She chose not to go there, while she embraced many other causes. Others took the risk and faced the consequences. That kind of courage is what makes civil rights movements succeed. Another:

As a female pioneer not just in space, but, possibly more importantly, in physics, Ride had to know that coming out as a lesbian could weaken or negate the effects of her work and stature in refuting prejudice against women more generally: "Of course, SHE can do physics and handle space – she's pretty butch, not REALLY a woman," etc.  It's cruel, it's unfair, but there it is.  Young lesbians face discrimination both for being female and for being gay, and fighting sexism helps lesbians as well as straight women.  If a lesbian feels she has to choose her battles, I'm not sure we should judge her choice.

The trouble is: you legitimize the assumptions about being a lesbian and not being a real woman by staying in the closet. And Ride was silent during the most epic and important years of both the AIDS crisis and the battle over marriage and the military. Those weren't any old years to be gay. They were the critical ones – when gay people were dying en masse, and when the possibility of civil rights and civil equality hung in the balance. In that struggle, she was sadly AWOL. Another:

After her career as an astronaut came to an end, her life's mission was to expand science education in our classrooms.  Now you of all people should appreciate that the regions of our country where science education is held in low regard are the very same places where homophobia reigns.  I'm sure Ms. Ride believed that if she "came out" publicly it would overshadow her ongoing efforts to increase opportunities for science education among our young people?

It's too bad we live in a nation where that would have been an issue, but do you really think she could have successfully pursued the goals laid out by her organization, Sally Ride Science, had she been openly gay?  Can you imagine the uproar in certain regions/school districts  had she been an out lesbian?  Do you think Sally Ride Science could have reached those most in need of their services and educational programs?

As a gay woman who has been out my whole life, I am so proud of what Sally Ride accomplished during her lifetime.  She knew she wanted to leave a legacy that included her life as a lesbian.  Her obituary made that very clear.  She wasn't a coward; she was a pragmatist, and I have nothing but respect for the way she conducted her life and the way she chose to reveal the love of her life upon her death.

One more:

I have to disagree with you in your assessment of Sally Ride's lesbianism. I was born two years after her historic flight, and my parents, being educated and progressive, held her up as an example of what I could do, regardless of my gender. And I ate it up. Every report on role models in elementary school, every five-page research paper on major 20th century events in middle school, and every integrated science/English paper I wrote in high school were about Dr. Ride, her accomplishments and her contributions to society. I even kept trying in physics, no matter how many Cs (and lower) I got on tests, in the hopes of one day becoming an astronaut.

I would have never done that if I had known she was a lesbian. My parents would never have thought her to be an appropriate role model, and even worse, I would have never allowed even the association that a middle school oral report would have given. Because then everyone would know that I was a lesbian too.

So when I read Dr. Ride's obituary yesterday, and saw the one-line reference to her "partner," I was oddly relieved that she wasn't out when I was a teenager. I needed that inspiration, the idea that I could get as far away as possible from the torment of high school, my parents' homophobia, my friends' religion. Her closet is part of the reason I escaped mine.

Which makes Sally Ride what? A role model for staying silent so as not to disturb the status quo? Once you accept the logic of prejudice, even as a tool for other laudable goals, you've given the game away.

(Photo: Former tennis star Billie Jean King and former astronaut Sally Ride arrive at the induction ceremony for the California Hall of Fame December 6, 2006 in Sacramento, California. The Hall of Fame, which was conceived by California first lady Maria Shriver, is inducting King, Ride, Alice Walker, Ronald Reagan, Cesar Chavez, Walt Disney, Amelia Earhart, Clint Eastwood, Frank Gehry, David D. Ho, John Muir and the Hearst and Packard families. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)