Sally Ride aboard the space shuttle in 1983
The fact that recently deceased astronaut Sally Ride – the first American woman in space – was in a lesbian relationship for 27 years has been omitted by much of the media.
The relationship between Ride, who died this week of pancreatic cancer at 61, and Tam O-Shaughnessy was only publicly revealed after her death in an obituary and by Ride’s family. This made her the only known gay astronaut in history.
Speaking to Chris Geidner from BuzzFeed, Ride’s sister Bear Ride, said: “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….I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”
She noted that while her sister didn’t use labels to describe herself, she “never hid her relationship with Tam”.
However, much of the mainstream media has failed to acknowledge the relationship. The New York Times, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, ABC and CNN, among others, have been accused of ignoring or diminishing the relationship between Ride and her female partner.
Some instead highlighted her earlier brief marriage to male astronaut Steven Hawley in 1982, whom she divorced in 1987.
“Sally Ride’s legacy is that of an immeasurably strong woman, who not only went far in the male-dominated fields of science and aerospace, she literally went farther than almost any other human in the history of our planet,” said Herndon Graddick, President of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“Now, we’ve all just discovered another piece of that legacy. There is a part of Dr. Ride’s story that has not yet fully been told, and her family has clearly indicated should be told. The history books need to make clear that Sally Ride was the first known member of the LGBT community in space.”
He called on the media, and the New York Times specifically, “to talk to the family about this part of Sally Ride’s story, and show Americans another side of this national hero.
“LGBT people have been invisible in so many aspects of our culture: textbooks, newspapers and many TV shows and films. Our community deserves to be recognised for our contributions to the world today. It’s time to tell the full history,” said Graddick.
Some, however, have been critical of Ride herself for failing to come out in her life when she could have done much good.
“She had a chance to expand people’s horizons and young lesbians’ hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to,” wrote blogger Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast, adding, “She was the absent heroine”.