Sally Ride was a lot of things, particularly to us little girls of the 80′s, but probably above all else she was the embodiment of idea that women could do anything — for “mankind,” as it were, space exploration was often couched as proof we were capable of great things, and Sally Ride’s role as the first woman in space brought that hope and achievement to females of all ages worldwide.
Even if you were too young to recall Sally Ride’s turn as the first woman in space as well as the youngest person yet to travel off Earth, you probably learned all about it if you were a girl in school during that decade. Sexism was an issue we knew Sally Ride was up against, though through a lens of three decades we now know just how pervasive it was — still, at the time, it was known that reporters asked Ride questions including whether she “[wept] when things [went] wrong on the job,” which sounds nearly quaint in 2012. Nearly.
But even as Ride remained a well-regarded symbol of can-do feminism, there was one very big part of who she was that the pioneering astronaut and physicist kept under wraps. Despite having broken barriers as a female in what was very much a man’s world even just 30 years ago, Ride concealed a nearly three decades-long relationship with her partner from public view, coming out as a lesbian only in her obituary after her death yesterday from pancreatic cancer.
Sally Ride’s sister Bear Ride talked to site BuzzFeed, and explained why the famed astronaut was closeted during her life, and what she hoped the posthumous coming out would achieve:
“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 added.
A commenter points out that despite a committed, 27-year long relationship, Ride’s partner isn’t eligible for survivor benefits following Sally’s death. When Bear is questioned about reaction to her sister’s coming out and relationship, she says:
“Who cares about [people who don't recognize it], 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.”
Earlier in her life, Sally Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley, but the pair divorced in 1987.