Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, passed away last week at the age of 61. The cause was pancreatic cancer, a sad footnote to a trail-blazing career. Something else in her obituary that eagle-eyed gay and lesbian journalists, activists and bloggers shot to to the top of the social media feeds may have also been destined for footnote heaven, but quickly became a headline.
Ride is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years.
Tam, of course, is a woman. And, that adds another “first” to Sally’s glowing legend, America’s first woman in space, America’s youngest astronaut, the first astronaut to be photographed with a Muppet, and now, our first lesbian to lift off the launch pad.
In a week where LGBT online activity was already on heightened alert, thanks again to anti-gay sentiments being expressed by Chick-Fil-A fast food chain owner, confirmation that an American hero was part of the rainbow family, who officially came out of the closet in the obituary she co-wrote with her partner, was big news.
Feelings were mixed, however. Sally Ride did not make this significant announcement while she was alive. All signs point to the private nature of Dr. Ride’s post-NASA life and the confirmation by her sister (also a lesbian, btw) that Sally and Tam were indeed “out” to family, friends and co-workers. For most of us mere mortals, that’s typically enough.
The debate will rage for some time over how much attention should be paid to Ride’s lesbian life in lieu of other accomplishments. Discussions will range from should Ride actually be “labeled” bisexual, since prior to Tam, she was married to a man, to how much of one’s personal life belongs in the headlines. Sally Ride might indeed be the most well-known astronaut after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Neither of them are known as being “the first heterosexual astronauts to walk on the moon.”
As long as prominent CEOs like Dan Cathy are around, though, tagging important people who make a difference in the world as “lesbian” or “gay” is a necessary action. When a national fast food chain like Chick-Fil-A can come out with bigoted public statements like “guilty as charged,” confirming, that yes, indeed, the company is opposed to “same-sex marriage” it creates the debate that, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, or support those who are, should you eat at Chick-Fil-A?
For some of us, the health-conscious, vegetarians and those who don’t live anywhere near a Chick-Fil-A, this has always been an easy decision. But in making the case that LGBT Americans indulge in fast food, too, we begin to go down that slippery slope. Do we follow our heads and hearts on this matter, or our stomachs?
Other things people consumed with last week.
- Muppets. For years it has been rumored that many Muppets are gay. They certainly are gay-friendly. One posed with Sally Ride, after all. And, the Jim Henson Company, creator of the Muppets, withdrew their free Muppet puppets from distribution with Chick-Fil-A’s children’s meals over the chain’s anti-gay sentiment.
- Fakers. Chick-Fil-A again. The chain’s PR team was caught red-handed creating a fake 15 year old girl to do battle on Facebook over the Muppet puppet fiasco. This was only tempered by rumors that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may have padded his Twitter account by paying for followers.
Photo courtesy of Backflashes.tumblr.com.