Out in Space
Hirshman, Linda, Newsweek
Byline: Linda Hirshman
What Sally Ride could have done for gay liberation.
Surprise--the first U.S. woman astronaut was a lesbian. After a lifetime of celebrity, Sally Ride came out last week via her obituary, which listed her "partner," Tam O'Shaughnessy, as the first survivor. A tardy arrival at the barricades, according to many. She was a trailblazer for women, but not for the gay revolution. As the Ride flap reveals, lesbians and gay men have the option of the closet. What's wrong with that? Some acts are not morally required; in normal times, coming out, like acknowledging cancer, which Ride also kept private, seems like a personal decision. Ride, however, did not live in normal times. The 27 years she shared with her "partner" were critical to the triumphant gay revolution. As activists around her made the world better, her world got better, too. But instead of pulling her weight, she was free riding. Worse, as a celebrity and role model, she denied the movement a valuable asset. The feminist version of this is the "I'm not a feminist but" woman, who gets decent pay and birth control while still enabling others to denigrate the movement. Revolutions will always have opponents; they should not have to carry their own as free riders.
In Ride's time, and until very recently, coming out was almost always hard. When California activist Harry Hay came out and proposed to start the first successful gay political organization in America in 1948, he could not get a single person to sign on. Meanwhile, he lost his political home in the Communist Party and spent years estranged from his ex-wife and two daughters. The federal government outed astrophysicist Franklin Kameny when they fired him in 1957. …