Sally Ride's sister, on the quiet acknowledgement of her orientation: "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay."

Astronaut, physicist, and American science hero Sally Ride died yesterday of pancreatic cancer, at 61. Dr. Ride was the first American female in space, and left a vast legacy of scientific accomplishments. When her astronaut days ended, she worked to promote space and science literacy to young people around the world through Sally Ride Science.

As friends and professional associates knew, and as was quietly noted in the obituary released on her website, Ms. Ride had been in a committed relationship with a woman for some 27 years. She met her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy nearly 50 years ago. Neither her cancer diagnosis nor her orientation were publicly shared, prior to her death.

Sally Ride's sister, Bear Ride, addressed this very personal aspect of Sally's very private life in comments to Buzzfeed today. "We consider Tam a member of the family," she told Chris Geidner.

"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, who identifies as gay, told Buzzfeed. "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them."

Asked about those who would have opposed legal recognition of her sister's relationship, Bear Ride bluntly replied, "Who cares about them, really? There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family."

The rest of the interview is well worth a read. More about Dr. Ride in our post from the day she died.


  1. I’d like to offer a correction: 
    “Asked about those who would have opposed legal recognition of her sister’s relationship, Bear Ride bluntly proved that badassery runs in her family with, “Who cares about them, really? There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family.”

  2. “Ms. Ride had been in a committed relationship with a woman for some 27 years.”

    Which is more than you can say for most of the people squawking about the “attack on traditional marriage.”

      1. I’m willing to bet that at least 50% of those offended by the idea of same-sex marriage have been married more than once, themselves. No, I have no evidence. But I get tired of hearing the argument. This woman had the same partner for over a quarter-of-a-century and could not marry her, if she had so desired, simply because of parochial attitudes about marriage.

        1. What is known is that traditionally “Red” states (i.e. those that tend to vote Republican in general elections and thus can be expected to oppose marriage equality) have a higher divorce rate than traditionally “Blue” states (those that tend to vote Democrat in general elections and can be expected to be more favorable towards marriage equality.)

          So while one can’t easily stereotype the individual anti-LGBT activist’s personal life– one can look at statistical averages.

      2. Bit of both, really.

        Statistically likely to be true, and also the more acceptable kind of ad hominem:  the kind that points out that a person’s stated position and actions are different enough that their position loses some credibility.

  3. It fucking sucks that in order to make LBGT an “accepted” part of society, people have to stick their necks out. What fucking sucks even harder, is that some people can’t. 

    1. Yes, it fucking sucks, but there are also a lot of people–including straight people–who are willing to stick their necks out. Sometimes the world just fucking sucks, but at least there are people who won’t stand for that and do what they can to make it better, which is fucking awesome.

      Aside from her sexual orientation I’m sure there are plenty of people who put obstacles in Sally Ride’s path because they didn’t believe a woman should or even could be an astronaut. And while she deserves great respect for having the courage and strength to overcome them some credit should also go to the people who believed in and helped her. Of course the most credit still goes to her because her willingness to try ultimately made it easier for women who wanted to follow her.

      1. I do point out that she was married to a fellow astronaut in the 1980s, so I don’t think her sexual orientation (at the time) was an obstacle to becoming an astronaut.

  4. So I read the story and my thoughts are “They named their daughter Bear?” (not ignoring all of the other things that was just the thought that was most prominent in my brain)

    1.  No, that was my thought too, “for that poor gal’s sake, please tell me that’s a nickname..”

    2.  It’s an awesome name, and I’m a little disappointed that it’s a nickname and not a given name. (If I’d ever had children, I’m sure they would have hated whatever names I gave them.)

      1. Problem with “awesome” names is that they tend to make commentary and place expectations on the child before you actually know them. (that is beside the point of personal definitions of awesome) I have known a few people over the years with such names – some end up fitting well others tend to go by their second names. 

        Nicknames on the other hand one has a bit more influence and control over (or the universe just tags you with one you cannot remove)

  5. And now Tam will have retirement and medical benefits from Sally’s place of employment, and social security when she retires, right?   Right?!

    1.  Given that this is NASA, and that Sally was a goddamned astronaut, what can be done? Could the chief bureaucrat at NASA decide to give Tam the benefits anyway? Would it require an act of Congress?

  6. “Neither her cancer diagnosis nor her orientation were publicly shared, prior to her death.” “I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”
    Isn’t that a little too late now?

    1. No.  No, it’s not too late.

      Don’t cast aspersions on the person who chose to stay out of the public eye – semi-closeted – in life.  Blame the society we’re in, not the people who have to figure out how to live in it.

      That she quietly came out when she died should be respected.  No one owes the world knowledge of their sexual orientation.  It’s always a choice, to tell or not to tell, and a difficult choice.  For the most part, I try not to judge those who make that choice differently than I did.
      The exceptions, to me, are people in positions of power to make policy, who choose to make anti-LGBT policy; or people who promote anti-LGBT rhetoric from places of authority.  When they’re having same-sex affairs on the side (as they so often are) I feel it’s reasonable to criticize their choices.

      But Sally Ride?  She did her work, she lived peacefully with her partner, she struggled with cancer, she died.  She didn’t want to be a lesbian symbol in life; we can respect that.  She was still gay, and we can respect that too.

      1.  But how much good could she have done if she had been out 20 years ago? An example for gay youth the world over. Now it is a footnote. One that will be simply ignored by those who most need to not ignore these things.

        1.  As someone who was a female science geek in school 20 years ago and got called a dike, then beaten up by both sexes for it simply because real girls do not do chemistry and calculus, Sally being out then would not have changed anything perhaps maybe have made it worse since she would have made the cliche of science girls are all lezbo butches true for the bigots.
          I’m glad Sally had a quiet enough life to have both of her heart’s greatest loves for many years. It was enough for her to be an advocate for achievement in her field; she did not owe us poster child for GBLT as well.

          1. You want people to stay in the closet to avoid the possibility that someone might accuse you of being a lesbian?

          2. Antinous, that’s unfair. The whole scenario is unfair, since when we rewrite history we make up the rules for what works and what doesn’t. If Tetsubo wants to make an alternate world where Sally Ride came out and still got to be an astronaut and everybody loved her and she didn’t die of cancer and became president, that’s fine as a story, but he hasn’t got anything to back it up as a workable scenario except wishful thinking.

            In this world Sally kept it in the closet. We don’t know what would have happened if she’d come out early on, but the chances are that she wouldn’t have become an astronaut and wouldn’t have become famous and would have ended up not influencing anyone at all. Thirty years ago wasn’t gay marriage time

          3. In six weeks, I’ll be celebrating my 40th anniversary of coming out of the closet and taking the consequences of being honest. Those of us who did come out and accepted those consequences are the reason that it’s possible for other people to come out today with less chance of having their lives ruined. People who stay in the closet can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.

        2. Given that she wanted to inspire young girls and get them into science, she would not have had that opportunity had she been openly gay. Sad, but true. She would’ve been accused of trying to indoctrinate young girls into lesbianism. Too many people are suspicious of gay people being near kids.

        3. That’s the same thing as saying, “Sure [NAME] was a good person but they should have given all their money to charity”. She’s not obligated to publicly fight for everyone, just like no one is obligated to spend their whole life helping the needy. You do what you can and you look after you and yours. It’s a balance. She lived her life, her closest acquaintances knew about her private life, and she was happy with her life partner.  It doesn’t make her less of a person than someone who fought all the fights. It would shameful to suggest otherwise.

          EDIT: Except *she* didn’t send any sort of message. She’s dead and it’s other people holding her up as a gay hero. And to them, maybe she was. Just because she chose to live a more private life, doesn’t mean she sent out a message that said “if you stay in the closet and don’t make waves, you can become an astronaut”. She chose to live privately because she chose to live privately. That’s all. Doesn’t make her any less or any better than someone else who lived a more public life.

          1. She’s being lauded as a gay hero for being an astronaut, but the message that she sent is that you can be an astronaut if you stay in the closet and don’t make waves. It’s an utterly destructive message to LGBT youth.

    2. Folks, let’s just call it quits and say that we’ll not beat up on the dead space hero for not wanting to do a cameo on Will and Grace. She’s already kicked my ass pretty hard in the life accomplishments category.

  7. Good thing there aren’t any major political figures who openly condemn gay rights as a menace while lauding Miz Ride.  Oh what, there ARE?  Woah, seems to me like those people– whoever they may be!– are really THE WORST.

    1. “Well, um, not her, I mean, she was gay but, a hero.  And an astronaut.  And, um, not one of THEM?”

  8. It is ironic that her private business is any of ours. It does shed light on a social stigma. In any light, hats off to Astronaut Ride.

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