First U.S. woman in space Sally Ride passes away and comes out


If you were a little girl – or a big girl – around 1983 the name Sally Ride will fill you with immediate hero worship. The first U.S. woman in space. A true trailblazer. A hero. And, now we all also know, a gay woman.

Credit: Image via Getty

Ride’s passing yesterday at the age of 61 made news not only for its sadness, but for the fact that she effectively came out via obituary. It read:

“She is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.”

She was previously married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley, but had known Tam since she was 12. Her sister Bear, who is also a lesbian, discussed Ride’s coming out posthumously with BuzzFeed yesterday and said:

“I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”

Bear Ride told BuzzFeed that O’Shaughnessy was considered “a member of the family” and that Ride was a very private person who “didn’t use labels.” She died after an equally private 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Bear Ride also told Buzzfeed:

“(Sally) never hid her relationship with Tam. They have been partners, business partners in Sally Ride Science, they’ve written books together …. Sally’s very close friends, of course, knew.”

O’Shaugnessy helped Ride found Sally Ride Science in 2001. The educational company creates classroom materials and programs for students interested in science, math and technology. O’Shaugnessy serves as chief operating officer and executive vice president for Sally Ride Science and co-authored several books with Ride over the years.

The mention of O’Shaughnessy as her partner in her obituary was the first such published acknowledgment of their relationship. Other interviews characterized them as business partners or good friends.

Ride with Billie Jean King being inducted into the California Hall of Fame, her partner O’Shaughnessy pictured in inset. 

Credit: Image via Getty, inset courtesy Sally Ride Science

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin talked to BuzzFeed about the importance of Ride’s announcement.

“For many Americans, coming out will be the hardest thing they ever do. While it’s a shame that Americans were not able to experience this aspect of Sally while alive, we should all be proud of the fact that like many LGBT Americans, she proudly served her country, had a committed and loving relationship, and lived a good life….The fact that Sally Ride was a lesbian will further help round out Americans’ understanding of the contributions of LGBT Americans to our country.”

The acknowledgment of Ride’s sexuality and relationship, albeit posthumously, is another leap forward in the recognition that LGBT people are everywhere and a part of everything. Even history and, now, the stars. Our condolences to O’Shaughnessy and the rest of Ride’s family on her loss.

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