Being a woman in the modern world is challenging in many ways. A woman may be the breadwinner in the family, but she is also the caretaker, the cleaner, the cook, and the mother. Being a successful woman means she has to be better than the men around her. Being a gay woman means she may be shunned from her success.
Sally Ride was an American astronaut and a physicist. She was the first American woman and the third woman in space. She was the youngest American astronaut to travel to space. After her death on July 23, 2012, she became the first gay astronaut.
Sally Ride was a private person. She was married to Steven Hawley, another astronaut, from 1982 to 1987. But her long-time partner was Tam O’Shaughnessy. No one outside of family knew about the relationship with Tam. They were known as business partners in Sally Ride Science and they wrote books together.
What boggles the mind is that for astronauts (and really any field), issues such as alcohol abuse or marital problems would be swept under the rug while sexual orientation would disqualify one from spaceflights. Why does it even matter? Michael Cassutt, the author of “Who’s Who in Space,” is quoted on Space.com saying such an announcement would be a “career-wrecker.”
Today, in 2022, it seems like the LGBTQ community is gaining momentum. Does that mean that there is less fear in coming out? Do people feel empowered to come out and be confident it won’t affect their career? Is the society ready to accept ALL, despite race, gender, or sexuality? Feels like maybe that’s where we are moving to, but there are a large number of people who cannot accept “different”, and they are fighting to keep the “traditional” ways. How does someone’s sexual orientation really affect you? You may have opinions, but if the job is done and the person succeeds, why does it matter?
It is sad and unfair that one cannot share their personal life with the outside world because there is a stigma about being different or not traditional. It is not fair that one will wait until after death to reveal their secret. With Sally, we only saw what we saw, and what everyone saw in Sally was that she was an astronaut, a physicist, and a woman. There was a lot to admire already.
Her goal in life was to inspire young children, especially girls, to become successful despite challenges surrounding gender. She co-founded Sally Ride Science, creating entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a focus on girls, to inspire them to study science. Her legacy lives on and perhaps the LGBTQ community will find it inspirational to reach for their dreams, study science, become successful on this planet and maybe in space.
Sally’s signature statement was “Reach for the Stars”. She did this, and she shined a way for the rest of us. There should be no fear in reaching goals, in becoming successful, in being “you”. Reach for the stars!