Gawker has posted an interesting roundup of current speculation that Sally Ride was a lesbian, and it really, really seems like Ride may have broken several barriers (earlier, closeted gay astronauts are clearly a possibility, but the solution here seems obvious: Ride was the first known gay person to achieve orbit), and considering the rapidly growing number of public and private individuals who feel comfortable enough with themselves and American society to come out by choice, with pride, its kind of a retrospective shame she didn’t feel welcome enough in this country to identify as gay more publicly. There was probably good reason for that. Could she have been fired for coming out? Yes. Could she have suffered professionally? Of course. Would she have been stigmatized and marginalized and treated appallingly? Probably. So it is perfectly logical Ride would have opted to keep it a secret.
Two quick notes:
1) I am clearly assuming she was gay despite the fact that she never publicly acknowledged it. Maybe she was bisexual! Maybe Tam was her friend! She was married to a man after all, which as everyone knows is incontrovertible evidence of homosexuality. Both are unlikely scenarios though. A relatively heated battle is currently unfolding on the Sally Ride Wikipedia talk page about whether or not it is appropriate to label Ride as gay, whether or not it matters, and whether or not more evidence is needed. It shouldn’t really matter, and neither should her gender, or her nationality. It should be enough to celebrate her as a human being who did amazing things and advanced our species with grace, dedication, and courage, but unfortunately we live in a world that has a few terrible legacies to address (discrimination based on sexuality and gender being the most pertinent here).
2) I am implying that her sexuality should have been an open, public, and freely shared piece of information. I am kind of saying that she should have been an activist, if public self-identification can, or maybe always is, a form of activism. As was the case with Anderson Cooper, there is a strong argument to be made that any individual’s sexual preference should be irrelevant, whether an influential figure or a private citizen (I would argue that this form of reasoning breaks down more so when the person in question is widely known and influential. Why? It just makes sense. With a greater audience public figures can affect national and international discourse, policy decisions, and provide valuable support to other victims of discrimination).
So does it matter? In a utopia, no but we don’t live there, so yes, her sexuality does matter and it elevates her accomplishments by demonstrating how much she sacrificed and how hard she worked for both the United States and the world. Oh, also, if the Gawker roundup doesn’t do it for you, just cast a quick google spell and pick your major outlet of choice to read more.