Gay Sally Ride–¿Y Qué?

When the first woman in space died, the spotlight quickly turned from her significant professional accomplishments to her sexual orientation.  The website for her foundation Sally Ride Science “outed” her with the note that  Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years.

All of a sudden, our gossipy culture where everyone claims to live and let live, but then has an opinion skirting judgment on others’ choices, piped in around the central question: why did Dr. Ride not come out while alive?

[Insert stones being cast]

“She SHOULD have.”


Courtesy: Dr. Sally Ride

I’ll  never forget a lovely gentleman I met at the beginning of my DC chapter who noted how much I liked the words “should” and “must”.  In fact, he accused me of being a should-ologist/must-ologist, warning me that continuing on this strident road would lead to a lot of frustration and disappointment.  Ultimately, he argued, we believe someone or something should or must do/be/believe/act/respond/question/think/ask–you get the picture.

Actually, “should” and “must” is in our heads.  People will do as they please.

I understand that Dr. Ride coming out may have helped by being an inspiration or role model to some confused, isolated gay person or youngin’ who doesn’t have someone to speak honestly with about her sexuality.

But we are living in a time of choice.  And this is not just about the choice to have sex or not.

Use birth control or not.

Have access to an abortion if I get pregnant or not.

It’s this and a whole lot more, a privilege that women of my generation enjoy because of the trail that those who came before us–without these options–blazed.

That choice extends to living as loudly or as quietly as we choose.  It’s hard for judgmental types or those in the cha-cha-chattering class who receive paychecks for squawking their opinions in media outlets to accept, but Dr. Ride chose to live her life privately.

Just the right amount of snark (i.e. witty, never mean) makes New York Magazine’s Daily Intel which reported that Dr. Ride’s sister chalked up Sally’s privacy to being Norwegian one of my favorite blogs.  As a Latina, I found this cultural note quirky and reflected how this concept (doesn’t) exist in my house.  On one hand, mi familia, we just talk loud–like really loud–prompting all of us kids to bolt and close the nearest open door or window lest los vecinos hear our dirty laundry.

On the other, Mami rifled (still rifles) through our stuff.

“How did the parents not know?,” she marveled (as she closed the lock on my diary and put it back where I used to stash it–between the mattress and boxspring of my chilhood twin-size bed) after the tragic Columbine shootings when it was revealed that one of the gunman had stockpiled weapons in their family’s homes.

Indeed, there was/is no “pri-ba-cee” en mi casa.

Which leads me to the deadly theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado.  What more can I say that I didn’t think after Columbine and the Tuscon shootings, and reported after Virginia Tech?  The profound tragedy of this senseless violence becomes a media zoo, telling the same, overdramatized story of heros, victims, a broken system, and a crazy man with a weapon.

Sounds familiar ¿no? like what happens every day in inner cities across the country, only there isn’t a media circus that descends upon East LA.

These thoughts in no way are meant to diminish what happened and the suffering of the survivors.  Rather, to honor the memory of the theater shooting victims, let’s cut the gawking media nonsense in exchange for  tough questions of our leaders meant to hold them accountable.  Let that turn into a call for a real discussion–with action soon to follow–asking why so many loopholes remain that allow guns to get into the wrong hands; where were the gunman’s family, friends, classmates, and neighbors who could have seen warning signs; and why is it OK to arm yourself with the same semi-automatic weapons and artillery our soldiers carry in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Sally Ride’s sexuality and The Dark Knight Rises shootings are the topics discussed in this week’s Beauty Shop on NPR’s Tell Me More.  I joined Michel Martin, Danielle Belton of the pop culture and politics blog The Black Snob,  PJ Media’s Bridget Johnson, and Deepa Iyer of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

Click below or here to hear the “Beauty Shop” which aired July 25, 2011:

To hear more hot topics on TMM‘s “Beauty Shop” with Viviana, Michel, plus smart and sassy ladies, click here.

Does a public figure like Sally Ride “owe it” to her community to have been public about sexuality?


  1. says

    She had every right to remain private, and every right to protect her partner in the process. Becoming an Astonaut is not just a walk in the park, there is whole lot involved and politics is the #1 factor. Why cram her life with gossip when her main focus was to succeed as an astronaut? This is not always about ones sexuality, but about a legacy, her goals, ones self and the motivation she gave other young folks to become an ASTRONUAT. I think her focus was to stay away from the possible controversy and remain focus on the education aspect of it. Ok, so you have youths and some adults who are still hiding there sexuality, would have loved to have like to see her make the “shout out” I’m gay and an astronaut! Hmmm no, sometimes we as people need to just find our way! She was an Astronaut first and that was more important to her (obviously) she new and her partner knew where heart was and that’s all that mattered. She didn’t have to prove her sexuality to anyone. I’m pretty sure she’s looking down saying “now you may speak”.

  2. says

    I agree with you completely. I don’t think anyone owes anyone anything in regards to their private life and what they want to reveal. Not everyone wants to shout it out and live out loud. It doesn’t mean they are ashamed or hiding. They are just simply living their lives. I don’t shout out, “HEY I LOVE PENIS!” Ok. Maybe I do on my blog but you get my drift!

  3. says

    I was shocked that people put so much emphasis on her sexual orientation. What’s the big deal? I’ continue to be surprised at how much people care. I just don’t get it.

  4. Yvonne Condes says

    I was surprised to find out she was gay, but not surprised she would keep it private. Not everyone wants their private life in the spotlight and we should all respect that.

  5. says

    People is weird, that´s the sad part of working hard, sometimes you can do a wonderful job, be the first astronaut in the world, but they will probably look in the part of your life that you don´t want to share. That´s the human nature, I think!

  6. says

    Honestly? Does her relationship diminish or add to her professional accomplishments? In my opinion, one has nothing to do with the other and I really don’t care who she lived with. It does not affect me personally and does not have any influence on whether or not I will teach my kids about her accomplishments in STEM fields.

  7. says

    The negativity in the world always wants to point at something that is irrelevant to the fact. She made history, just like Gaby Douglass at the Olympics but the spotlight wants to be driven to something that doesn’t matter!

  8. says

    I understand the concept of CHOICE. We cannot ask (or demand) for it in certain places and not allow it in others. I respect people’s choices in a number of different contexts, and this was one of them. It’s OK to air our opinions, and it’s also important to respect the magnitude of each person’s contributions — whatever their choices. This was a great woman, a trailblazer, and a role model. Good for her! What she chose to share was determined by her, and I would imagine, in conjunction with her family. This should not be diminished by other choices about what she chose to share about the rest of her life outside the professional sphere. Thanks for this article, Viviana, and the reminder that almost NOTHING is private in Latino families… :)

  9. says

    I read a lot controversial posts on FB right after she died. A lot of my gay friends were fired up b/c her life-long partner wasn’t going to get any of their shared savings, etc.. b/c of the laws. However, I’m very certain Sally and her partner knew what they were doing, how things were going to play out and hence were prepared to deal with the aftermath. Her life as a public servant was not in the vein of gay rights, so I’m completely okay with her decision to keep that far and apart from her career. One has nothing to do with the other.

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