Is it really fair to diss Sally Ride for not coming out & being a role model for young gay women?

Why should she tell me or anyone else she didn’t know? I imagine their families and friends knew, and who else matters? I have had a couple kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, and I don’t march in the survivor’s parades, and I definitely don’t have anything with a pink ribbon. It’s my affair and the affair of those I choose to inform.

If people want to tell the world, good for them. If they don’t, good for them.

As far as I can tell she was open in her private life. At the time she was in the spot light she was married to a man. If she was with a woman at the time maybe she would have been open with it then. Maybe not. For the last few decades she wasn’t exactly on the cover of the National Enquirer. No one was interested in her personal life. She chose not to make a press release stating she was a lesbian. So what? Its her choice.

I can see the argument for her being wrong not to come out. Some gays in the 60’s and 70’s came out of the closet and started living openly despite the fact that it made them social pariahs, estranged many of them from their families and in some cases subjected them to physical danger. But by building a visible community despite the personal consequences they made being openly gay more of a viable choice for other gays and made it less seem less transgressive to much of the rest of society.

Sally Ride was able to live semi-openly with her partner with minimal social consequences because the previous generation of gays lived with the consequences of publicly advocating for acceptance. In the 80’s and 90’s, when Ride was living with her partner, society was still a long ways from being accepting though, so to the extent that her advocating her lifestyle would’ve made it easier for future gays, as the previous generation had made it easier for her, I can see where she had at least some moral obligation to do so.


I have male friends I’ve known for years that I was surprised to learn had live in girlfriends…their partnership status was just never part of the relationship between us. Topics of conversation are movies, books, politics, and lots and lots of gaming…not our personal lives.

Straight people sometimes share this with everyone, and sometimes they don’t. There is no reason that gay people are under a different obligation.

My wife is solidly in your corner on that one - after her mastectomy and chemo she said quite adamantly that she didn’t want ANYTHING to do with the “breast cancer Mafia”.

Since then, though, some in the LGBT community have actually reembraced the old stereotypes. They’re a source of identity. They highlight gay history and pioneering. They resonate with the position that you’re Born That Way. And probably most importantly, they have a choice now, because they’ve won a much more secure place in the culture.

Just because you happen to belong to X group doesn’t mean you’re obliged to be a spokesperson for that group.

Maybe she wanted to be known for her career and her accomplishments and not her sexual preferences.

It’s hard to overstate the bravery necessary to be part of that first wave of openly, defiantly gay people. But one way you could dramatically undercut their bravery is to take the position that everyone who was gay was obligated to come out. If you’re under an obligation to do something, fulfilling that obligation is not heroic. A hero is someone who does more than they’re obligated to do. Criticizing Ride for not being a hero in the arena of gay rights is an immense disservice to the people who willing to make the immense sacrifices necessary to get us to where we are today.

Very well said, Miller. I can add nothing to how you put it. You said it.

I know virtually nothing about Sally Ride’s personal life, but as I mentioned in another thread the timeline of her career at NASA itself hints at reasons why she might have chosen not to go public with her relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy.

1978: Ride begins working for NASA.
1982: Ride marries astronaut Steve Hawley
1983: Ride becomes first American woman in space.
1985: Ride begins relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy.
1986: Challenger disaster.
1987: Ride divorces Hawley, leaves NASA.
(All dates taken from Wikipedia.)

Even if Ride and Hawley’s divorce was a friendly one, and I don’t know that it was, the ending of a relationship between two people who work as part of a close-knit team in a stressful and dangerous field has to be pretty awkward not just for the couple but for their colleagues as well. And it’s not like there wasn’t enough for the folks at NASA to be stressed about around this same time; the Challenger disaster occurred after Ride became involved with O’Shaughnessy but before she and Hawley divorced. Even after she left NASA, Ride might have been concerned that if she came out publicly she’d generate negative publicity for the organization or damage her ex-husband’s reputation. I mean, even now there would probably be jokes about a public figure whose wife left him for another woman, and 25 years ago I expect it would have been even worse.

As time past these concerns presumably diminished, but so did Ride’s prominence in the public eye. To the best of my knowledge she wasn’t dodging questions about her love life on major talk shows or anything. If Ride was by nature a private person she was probably happy not to have to deal with such questions and I can understand her not being eager to issue a public statement announcing that she was gay or bi.

FWIW though, Ride apparently wanted her relationship with O’Shaughnessy to be acknowledged in her obituary. While this may not seem like much, young gay women today do at least know that a woman regarded as an American hero also loved another woman. Ride could have attempted to keep this a secret that would die with her, but she didn’t. I’m happy that we’ve reached the point where a same-sex partner being acknowledged in a public figure’s obituary doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it wasn’t that long ago that many of Susan Sontag’s obituaries neglected to mention her relationship with Annie Leibovitz – and Sontag was openly bisexual.

Just came across an interesting article on Scientific American entitled Why Aren’t There Any Openly Gay Astronauts?:

The obvious reference to the military DADT policy is made as well. So it seems the issue was fraught with much more conflict than we may be aware.

I’d wondered aloud in the other thread about the meaning of “openly gay,” and the distinction between “coming out” and “coming out quietly” - not to mention Dr. Ride’s status as an icon in the LGBT community. Sullivan says, “But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people’s horizons and young lesbians’ hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to.” Well, she has now, hasn’t she? Will horizons and hope and self-esteem not expand simply because Dr. Ride is dead? It seems to me she was an “absent heroine” only in the sense that she refused the media circus; by all accounts she was not closeted to those who knew her. I don’t know that you can say she owed any more than she gave. Sullivan sounds wounded that she didn’t sacrifice her privacy for the cause, but he seems to be ignoring the very real contribution her obituary revelation can make.