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When Sally Ride passed away earlier this week, most of us learned for the first time that she was a lesbian. In the days since, though, she’s posthumously become a role model, a poster child and a flashpoint.
Ride helped write her own obituary, in which she revealed her 27-year relationship with partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, so it’s not like she wanted her sexuality to be some big secret. But she chose not to stand up as a gay activist—she never spoke at an HRC dinner, never marched in a protest against DOMA, never recorded an It Gets Better Video. Of course she may have been active in her local community, but no reports have surfaced. “She was just a private person who wanted to do things her way. She hated labels (including ‘hero’),” wrote Ride’s sister, Bear.
Still, that hasn’t stopped members of the LGBT community from using Ride as a focal point in the struggle for equality. The fact that O’Shaughnessy won’t receive death benefits has popped up on status updates and placards almost immediately. Many are acting as if Ride’s posthumous coming-out means we broke another barrier—the first gay in space.
“What a shame that we didn’t learn this while she was alive,” HRC spokesman Fred Sainz said. “However, the fact it was acknowledged in death will be an incredibly powerful message to all Americans about the contributions of their LGBT counterparts.”
Do we even know if Ride wanted to send a powerful message? Should we be using her death as a political tool? And if the person didn’t talk about their sexuality, what message does that send to all Americans?
There’s no definitive answer, of course, but we’re throwing it out to you, Queerty readers: Should Sally Ride’s privacy be respected or is the personal always political? And is she even a good candidate showing society what LGBT people can achieve?
Launch your responses in the comments section.