Gay and lesbian rights advocates said on Thursday they are disappointed it was never publicly disclosed that Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was gay until after she died, but that her legacy will remain intact.
Lorri L. Jean, the CEO of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, said Ride's impact on the world would have been tremendous had she come out of the closet during her lifetime.
Throughout her life, Ride supported and was a board member of many science and technology groups and organizations but she never publicly supported gay and lesbian issues.
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“Anytime anyone of signature comes out it’s always good but I don’t think less of Sally Ride," Jean said. "Everyone has to make their own decision but I am disappointed.”
The larger public did not learn she was gay until it was mentioned in her obituary on her website after her death on Monday. Ride co-wrote the post with her longtime lover, Tam O’Shaughnessy, with whom she had a 27-year relationship.
The conversation about Ride's sexuality filled the blogsphere.
Prominent gay blogger Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast second-guessed Ride's coming out posthumously.
... "she could have been an incredible voice in defense of gay people in the military and against the gay ban," Sullivan wrote on Thursday. "She was utterly silent."
But, Sullivan added, "How do you expect that Ms. Ride could have been an astronaut and been out during the 1980s?"
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay American bishop, defended the move.
"For girls who had an interest in science and wanted to go places women had not been allowed to go, she was a tremendous role model," Robinson told The Associated Press. "The fact that she chose to keep her identity as a lesbian private – I honor that choice."
Ride, who was born in Encino, first fostered her friendship with O’Shaughnessy at age 12 while the two played tennis together.
They maintained a relationship over the years while Ride attended Stanford University where she earned a Ph.D. in physics and later joined NASA. O’Shaughnessy, who earned her Ph.D. from UC Riverside, went on to become a professional tennis player.
After graduating from UC Riverside, O'Shaughnessy become the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride Science, an organization that was founded by Ride in 2001 to motivate young girls and boys about careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
They both also co-authored several books on science for children.
In 1978, NASA accepted Ride as an astronaut candidate. A year later, she became qualified as a space shuttle flight crew member.
On June 18, 1983, Ride marked history and became an inspiration as the first American woman in space.
Ride died Monday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.