Sally Ride was a rare breed of female role model. She was the first American woman in space, the youngest at 32 to ever go into space, an advocate for girls contemplating a lifetime pursuing science education, and when she was quite a bit younger, a budding professional tennis player. Small wonder she was honored in the Google Doodle of May 26, 2015 on what would have been her 64th birthday.
One facet of her life seems to always garner more attention than the countless accolades she accrued over her 64 years on Earth. When she was effectively outed as lesbian in her obituary, she suddenly also became the first known LGBT person to be in space. Her sexuality was only one small part of who she was, and yet, Sally Ride continues to be saluted for her role in the LGBT community.
Let us not forget that Ride was an incredible trailblazer for any young girl wondering what she could actually accomplish. She set the bar high for those wanting to pursue careers in science, and she was so incredibly versatile in her pursuits that it could be argued her energy was truly boundless. Unfortunately, that energy was cut short when pancreatic cancer claimed her in 2012.
While she has been rightfully saluted as a tireless advocate for science education and for her work with NASA, many people were unaware that Ride was, in fact, a lesbian. She was also incredibly introverted, and as writer Lynn Sherr reveals in her book Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, the sudden fame that her space flight had garnered was terribly uncomfortable for her, leading her to seek a psychiatrist’s care. Her place in the LGBT spectrum was not revealed to many until her death in 2012 – why should she suddenly be remembered as the first known LGBT person in space? What relevance does that have, in the long run?
There are LGBT lawyers, cops, firefighters, teachers – virtually every profession has someone who identifies somewhere along the spectrum in it. Dr. Sally Ride needs to be remembered for the groundbreaking work she did as the youngest astronaut, male or female, that NASA sent up; she needs to be honored for her work with the robotic arm, or for her work trying to encourage more females to pursue a career in one of the many scientific fields we have today. When she taught at UCSD, she was a genuine heroine in the midst of a sea of seasoned faculty and eager students who knew the valuable work she had done.
Dr. Sally Ride was an impassioned science student who so believed in trying to persuade young girls in particular to pursue science-related fields and who set the standard for those looking to chase their dreams. The animated series of Google Doodles that did such a great job in honoring her legacy epitomized the spirit she embodied. It did not matter that throughout her life, she did not mention her status in the LGBT community. For Ride, her 27-year relationship with former pro tennis player Tam O’Shaugnessy was part of what she considered private, and that included her sexuality, which should have nothing to do with her vast array of professional accomplishments. What mattered was that she pursued life’s passions, and she did so with determination and honor.
[Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines via Getty Images]