Don’t Ignore Sally Ride’s Coming Out Party

Even after death, the gay astronaut can still inspire. By Gail Shister

Pioneering astronaut Sally Ride waited until her death to come out as a gay American. Mission accomplished, for her. For the media, not so much.

During the first wave of coverage last week, the fact that Ride was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, was mentioned at or near the end of virtually every obituary, as is the practice with obits of heterosexuals.

The problem is that Ride’s carefully planned acknowledgement of her sexuality, like it or not, was real news, and should have been treated as such.

The first U.S. woman in space had also turned out to be the first acknowledged gay astronaut in the history of NASA. Both facts matter.

Instead, most early reports ignored Ride’s revelation, which was included in the announcement of her July 23rd death put out by her educational foundation, Sally Ride Science. In my business, that’s called burying the lede—an unfortunate choice of words in this case, but true nonetheless.

In the media’s defense, Ride and O’Shaughnessy, COO of Sally Ride Science, did not make it easy for reporters. There was no indication of O’Shaughnessy’s gender in the official release, crafted by both women before Ride died of pancreatic cancer at age 61, according to a foundation spokesman.

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