Her Facebook page reads, “Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.” Her obituary announced that she is survived by “Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.”
Wait… Sally Ride has cancer? And she’s dead? And she’s gay?
Sally’s sister Bear Ride is quoted saying,
“People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, that’s going to be a huge shock. For 17 months, nobody knew — and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer.”
Sally was the epitome of an American icon. She spent her life serving her country doing what she loved and was in a lasting, loving relationship. In addition to being the first American woman in space, she was honored in the National Women’s Hall of Fame (which just celebrated its own anniversary days ago) and founded Sally Ride Science; an education company dedicated to providing science materials to classrooms. Their “…corporate mission is to make a difference in girls’ lives, and in society’s perceptions of their roles in technical fields”
Some argue that as an advocate for females, with all of her accomplishments in life -relationship included- and the aim of her foundation, it would have made an even bigger, broader, better impact for her to have come out while she was living. The success of celebrity-backed movements like It Gets Better , where entire hosts of celebrities speak directly to youth -Ride’s key market- about how their lives are better for being out and proud and how no gay youth should feel alone, are proof of the benefit it can have when people in the public eye “come out”. Surely, Sally’s voice truly would have been an amazing asset to the LGBT society.
The National Cancer Institute may well feel they have lost a spokesperson as well, as pancreatic cancer has the fourth highest mortality rate in both men and women- probably due to the fact that there are still no screening tests, so it is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage. Cancer.org says, “The pancreas is deep inside the body, the doctor cannot see or feel tumors during a routine physical exam. By the time a person has symptoms, the cancer is usually large and has spread to other organs.” Only 4.4 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive longer than five years, with Ride’s 17-month survival being typical. When my dad was diagnosed at stage 3 with Melanoma, our world got very small. I completely understand not wanting to be the poster girl for something you kind of hate, and that is slowly closing its grip on your life.
So, why not come out the quarter of a century before her diagnosis? In an society with ever-growing paparazzi and social media frenzies, one’s right to privacy and personal choice is paramount. The Huffington Posts reminds us that “in in a 1983 Washington Post article, Ride was described as”elusive and enigmatic” and “protective of her emotions” A quote attributed to Ride and published in the same Times article also hinted at her need for privacy. “It’s no secret that I’ve been reluctant to use my name for things,” she said. “I haven’t written my memoirs or let the television movie be made about my life.”
You can weigh in on whether or not you think celebrities have a duty to come out in a Huffington Post poll here.
Her sister Bear Ride (who also identifies herself as gay) is quoted as saying, “Sally didn’t use labels. Sally had a very fundamental sense of privacy, it was just her nature, because we’re Norwegians, through and through.”
My view is that it’s not anyone’s job how to tell anyone how best to define themselves. It clearly wasn’t her choice to make her sexual affiliation a topic when it came to discussing her life and accomplishments; a perfectly respectable choice. She used her voice as she saw fit and made progress in society’s view of females, regardless of her sexual orientation- which, it seems, was her point.
One lesson we can take from Sally Ride as parents, is a note about her own.
Can you imagine what the world would have been like if her parents had dismissed her passions because they were foreign to them or she was, “just a girl”? Can you imagine what would have happened if they didn’t accept her aspirations or her sexuality? By loving their daughter exactly as she was and encouraging her to explore her interests, however far-fetched they may have seemed, they gave their daughter the ability to reach for the stars- and actually reach them.
Watch sally on sesame Street here:
Sally, reflecting on being the first American woman in space:
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