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Astronaut Sally Ride's Posthumous Coming Out Confirmed: 'Sally Had a Very Fundamental Sense of Privacy'

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Before astronaut Sally Ride's obituary was released late yesterday, there had been no previous public acknowledgement that she was a lesbian, Terry McEntee, a spokeswoman from Sally Ride Science, told Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed.

With the simple statement that Ride was survived by "Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years", she was out.

Sally's sister Bear Ride, talking with BuzzFeed, said yesterday, "We consider Tam a member of the family."

Saying that her sister was a very private person, Bear Ride said, "People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, that's going to be a huge shock. For 17 months, nobody knew -- and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer.

"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," Bear Ride, who identifies as gay, said.

"I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them," she added.

Bear Ride told Geidner that she never hid her relationship with Tam, and that Sally's close friends knew: "Sally didn't use labels. Sally had a very fundamental sense of privacy, it was just her nature, because we're Norwegians, through and through."

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  1. I'm absolutely thrilled. This is much better than the posthumous coming out of Dumbledore. I do wish, however, that Sally had the notion to come out while she was still alive. She was from a generation that valued privacy I suppose, but I always equated the desire for "privacy" regarding one's sexual orientation with shame. Nonetheless, she was a pretty awesome person and a great role model for young scientists and space geeks. Now she can be a particularly good role model for LGBT kids. Dream big, boys and girls, and don't let anything hold you back!

    Posted by: Steve Ribisi | Jul 24, 2012 7:35:31 AM


  2. I'm just shocked to find out that she's Norwegian. It's funny, because she doesn't look Norwegian.

    Posted by: Scott | Jul 24, 2012 7:45:52 AM


  3. note to SCOTT: pssssssssssst, not all scandinavians are BLONDE.

    Posted by: no u didnt | Jul 24, 2012 8:19:42 AM


  4. What's disappointing about Sally Ride is that she failed to come out of the closet when it really mattered. Sadly, she's now passed away.

    I don't really idealize the notion that posthumous comings out are good for our community. They play into the hands of those who think we are ashamed of ourselves.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 24, 2012 8:46:38 AM


  5. Ah, good story. But c'mon, Bear Ride??

    Posted by: Gregg | Jul 24, 2012 8:55:32 AM


  6. I think Jason makes a pertinent point.

    But, I'll take the affirmations whenever they occur. I guess, better late than never.

    Posted by: Continuum | Jul 24, 2012 10:03:59 AM


  7. I'm sad she passed, and feel for her partner, but I agree with Jason. In my opinion when someone 'comes out' posthumously, regardless of how many of their close friends knew, all they're saying is how ashamed they were to actually 'be' gay in real life.

    Also that whole line about her sister "Identifies as gay" bugs me. You either are or you arent....'identifies' implies a choice.

    Posted by: Geoff M | Jul 24, 2012 10:09:42 AM


  8. "She was from a generation that valued privacy I suppose, but I always equated the desire for "privacy" regarding one's sexual orientation with shame."

    I guess those of us in our 50's and older should not be surprised at the incredible ingratitude and ignorance of the younger generation, who have no earthly idea how much more difficult gay people had it when we were their ages....

    Before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", for example, you could be kicked out of the military if there was even any evidence at all that you might be gay, even if you did not talk about it. And when you grow up with that kind of culture, it has an effect on you. When I first became aware of my sexuality in the early 70's, homosexuality was still regarded as a mental illness and anyone who was thought to be gay was a social pariah, at best.

    Only because your elders fought to change things do those of you who are younger even have the opportunity to equate not coming out with "shame"......but instead of expressing gratitude to those of us who brought about such changes, you sit in judgment.

    And that is pretty damn pathetic.

    Posted by: Rick | Jul 24, 2012 10:45:06 AM


  9. Not judgement, Rick, but disappointment. She was alive in 2012, the here and now. It is much easier to be out thanks as you say to the older generations. I have two children, I can't afford shame for their sake. What kind of message do I send my young son and daughter if I am unwilling to be open about being gay? Sally Ride was awesome. I just wish she had the courage, the propensity, the sense, whatever - to come out while she was still alive. Oh, and Rick, I can disagree with you, but that doesn't mean that I am not grateful. I would never have been able to have the family I have today if not for the sacrifices of those who came before.

    Posted by: Steve Ribisi | Jul 24, 2012 10:57:51 AM


  10. There were rumours that the first man in space Yuri Gagarin is also gay. Of course because it was Soviet Union in the sixties, his obituary didn't mention that.
    http://andrejkoymasky.com/liv/fam/biog1/gagari01.html
    For those science geeks, there are more credible evidence that a famous Soviet Mathematician is gay.
    http://andrejkoymasky.com/liv/fam/biok3/kolmog01.html

    Posted by: simon | Jul 24, 2012 11:26:21 AM


  11. I agree. The pressure Sally Ride was under well into the late 90s to keep up a certain appearance or risk losing everything she worked for...not her achievements but her influence, which was mostly through her educational work with children. This woman was in her 30s in the 1980s and to have those dual pressures....ostracism from the military community you loved, loss of the ability to work with and influence young girls everywhere, distraction from all the work you have done in science as everyone focuses on your sex life...its not as single as choosing to be "brave" or not. It may be when the only person whip will potentially lose out is you, but its not even your work with children (which would have become controversial with some children's parents in the late 80s, 90s, and the tea party 2000s). And she wasn't "protecting her celebrity," but also her ability to influence and credibly affect the discussion (without distraction or cheap shots by opponents) of young girls in science and math. And none of this speaks to the cultural and generational differences that have already been addressed. Its so easy to criticize from this place we are in now and so many are too young to know just HOW fast change has come and keeps coming. Respect this woman's legacy, especially in the immediate wake pf her death, and just be grateful that the circumstances under which she felt she should remain "private" are quickly diminishing.

    Posted by: llm | Jul 24, 2012 11:36:07 AM


  12. sorry for the damn autocorrect/autcomplete errors

    Posted by: llm | Jul 24, 2012 11:37:32 AM


  13. I can't comment on why she didn't come out while she was alive. But the fact that she was in the military (which all astronauts are as part of the NASA program) during the Reagan era could have something to do with it.

    Posted by: Peter v | Jul 24, 2012 11:50:07 AM


  14. If Sally Ride had come out at the beginning of her career, she'd have been FIRED from the military. If she had come out in all but the last couple of years at NASA, she'd have lost her security clearance and would have been FIRED from the astronaut program.

    Perhaps that's why she didn't come out.

    The Boy Scouts of "America" has a Sally Ride merit badge, I wonder how long that is going to last.

    Posted by: Johnson | Jul 24, 2012 11:58:09 AM


  15. @ LLM - excellent, excellent post!

    Posted by: AZEXPAT | Jul 24, 2012 12:09:44 PM


  16. I don't fault Sally one bit for not coming out during her lifetime. Do you think for one minute that she would have been an astronaut at all if she had come out during her career. Most of my adult life has been under the pervasive shadow that I could be fired for being gay. Its still so in most US states. I have always been out, but in the arts, so who cares?

    Posted by: Rapture | Jul 24, 2012 12:10:09 PM


  17. I'm in my late 30s and don't fault Ride for not coming out for all the aforementioned reasons in her defense. Context plays a huge role here. Disappointing would be more like if someone in their 20s became an astronaut today and didn't come out for the next three decades. There is an argument for shame ... if there is one.

    Posted by: Cinesnatch | Jul 24, 2012 12:32:41 PM


  18. This is a bit of a surprise. Tam can be a male name too, so it wouldn't be clear from the obituary alone.

    All astronauts are under a lot of intense pressure to keep the NASA PR image as whitebread and All-American as possible, since NASA rides to space on its PR efforts. It's no so much that they browbeat people, it's that they select people who naturally censor themselves. She wouldn't have come out anyway, but she wouldn't have been famous had she not been an astronaut. It's also possible they wanted a lesbian on the first flight in order to keep the men on the flight in line and avoid all temptation.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 24, 2012 12:34:45 PM


  19. No matter what people think of her private life, and her decisions (which of course were her's and her's alone to make)
    I think she made the right choice. She didn't deny anything, she just didn't open up a statement to be judged by those kinds of people that witch hunt and distract her from being, doing, living with their truly evil hypocritical
    stance on how a person should live.
    Im saddened she has gone. Im happy she lived....and she was an Astronaut...talk about living the dream.

    Posted by: Colin Mathura-Jeffree | Jul 24, 2012 1:11:04 PM


  20. Think about it. If she had come out, she never would have been accepted into the space program and made history.

    Posted by: patrick | Jul 24, 2012 2:28:58 PM


  21. There is nothing insensitive about wishing Sally ride had had the courage to come out of the closet before she died. Wake up folks, it's the 21st century, and in most of the Western world, sexual orientation is no longer a "privacy" issue! She may have had valid reasons to remain silent, but no matter what they were, a good many folks are going to assume she was ashamed.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Jul 24, 2012 2:36:10 PM


  22. "It is much easier to be out thanks as you say to the older generations."

    Yeah, but grateful to the ones that came out and fought back. Not the ones who cowered in shame and fear back in the closet. For them I feel sorrow, not gratitude. And not disdain either. Sorrow.

    Posted by: Feelings | Jul 24, 2012 3:01:18 PM


  23. I'd love for you, Rick, to show us all the strong manly empowered masculine example of a gay role-model that you claim to be.

    truly. show us this example of Door-Opening that you claim to be.

    i was thinking about this woman this morning. it speaks to just how powerful anti-gay sentiment is.

    we have grown adult men and women who risk their lives by going into outer space. by going into war-zones in battle, putting their lives on the line.....only to then be afraid of what will happen if, Back Home, if "too many people know that they're gay"

    it should send a message to everyone - THAT is how strong and feared anti-gay prejudice is. you can hold a gun and go into a combat zone, but you can't hold your partner's hand on the street.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jul 24, 2012 3:12:41 PM


  24. many of us from the "younger generations" are wholly aware of the bravery and sacrifices of the men and women who came (out) before us.

    and we're paying it forward.

    http://youtu.be/YcRoOBYVC58

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Jul 24, 2012 3:20:11 PM


  25. "Yeah, but grateful to the ones that came out and fought back. Not the ones who cowered in shame and fear back in the closet. For them I feel sorrow, not gratitude. And not disdain either. Sorrow"

    That comment shows that you just don't get it. Then, as now, most of the people who were and are fully "out" were those who could most easily afford to be......and there were very, very few of those (and we are talking hundreds, not millions).

    None of the people who were in positions of prominence were fully "out" because to be so would have been to commit social and professional suicide. But many of those people did what they could behind the scenes, whether that meant financing those who could be freer or, for example, lobbying the APA to change its definition of homosexuality as a mental illness......but doing so as professionals without being "out", which would have destroyed their credibility.

    Or they wrote articles for the newspapers that employed them, urging tolerance or calling attention to changes like the APA policy...again without being fully "out."

    And it was actions like those that brought about change, NOT demonstrations in the streets that have, on balance, done more harm than good, since they generally have put on display the very worst aspects of gay life, not the best ones.

    Gradually, those actions led to the changes that have permitted some people to be fully "out" today, although for most prominent people the risks still outweigh the benefits.

    The mistake some of you make is trying to simplify everything into a black/white "out" or "not out" paradigm that does not fit the realities of how real people live their lives in the real world.

    And that is a real shame.

    And I say that as someone who marched in my first Pride parade way back in 1976, before half of you were even born. You're welcome.

    Posted by: Rick | Jul 24, 2012 4:17:15 PM


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