In what is perhaps a stellar example of the new trend in coming out quietly, Sally Ride, the first American woman to rocket into outer space, came out as a lesbian in her obituary, a day after her tragic death due to pancreatic cancer. She now makes history not only as the first American woman in space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger, but as the first openly gay or bisexual person (while the obituary referred to a relationship with a woman for 27 years, it's possible, since Ride was once married to man, that she identified as bisexual or without a label) to fly in space as well.
While the news of her death at the age of 61 after a 17-month battle with cancer is immensely sad, and while it would have been terrific if she came out while alive, Ride's posthumous coming out is a wonderful gift to America's youth. And it's what we needed right now. If astronauts are among the ultimate heroes and examples of American ingenuity, fortitude and bravery, then with that one line in her obituary -- survived by "Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years" -- Sally Ride dispeled all the ugliness foisted on this country in recent weeks by the Boy Scouts of America, Chick-Fil-A and Jennifer Carroll, Florida's GOP lieutenant governor, who, denying charges that she had sex with another woman in her office, claimed women who look like her are not involved in same-sex relationships (and refuses to apologize).
Yes, Lt. Governor Carroll, you are right. With your bigotry and cowardice, you are are not what a lesbian looks like.
This is what a lesbian looks like: Sally Ride: physicist; author of seven science books for children; member of the space shuttle Challenger crew; member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology; director of the California Science Institute; inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame; recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award, and the NASA Space Flight Medal (twice).
Here we had the Boy Scouts of America reaffirming its ban on gay scouts and lesbian and gay scout leaders last week, after a hideous scene in which the BSA booted a devoted den mother, Jennifer Tyrell, simply because she is a lesbian. The Boy Scouts, which claims to value "good conduct, respect for others, and honesty," believes gay kids and and gay and lesbian adult leaders don't measure up. But with her service to the country, not just as a member of NASA's space program but with her dedication to educating American children, and particularly young girls, about science, Sally Ride shows the Boy Scouts to be running purely on the fumes of bias.
And then there's Chick-fil-A, whose president charged that the fight for marriage equality was an example of "audacity" and "inviting God's judgement." Mike Huckabee, stewing in the bile that has become his radio show, lashed out at the critics who said they're giving up their chicken sandwiches, accusing them of "intolerant bigotry from the left." (Yes, deciding not to give your money to a company that is giving its profit to causes you don't believe in and is speaking out against your rights is somehow intolerant.) Huckabee announced a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," while gay activists have launched a "National Same-Sex Kiss Day" for August 3.
Huckabee called Chick-fil-A "a great American story" and hailed Chick-fil-A's president Dan Cathy for "operating the company with Biblical principles and whose story is the true American success story."
But no, discrimination is not an American success story, nor is there anything "great" about it. Sally Ride -- astronaut, pioneer, teacher, writer and devoted lesbian partner for 27 years -- now there's a great American success story.