Gay or Not Gay? Sally Ride

When pioneering (for America!) female astronaut Sally Ride passed away yesterday, the company she founded issued a press release noting that she was survived by "her partner of 27 years" Tam O'Shaughnessy. And Tam O'Shaughnessy is a woman. Weird, huh? Wait, there's more.

Not only that, but Ride's sister Bear Ride (that's right, Ride's sister Bear Ride) told the Broward Palm Beach New Times that Sally Ride was a gay person. That her "partnership" with Tam O'Shaughnessy was of the romantic and spiritual variety. She said the same thing to BuzzFeed. It's starting to look like Sally Ride may have been a lesbian.

Or at least that's what you'd think if you were some gossip maven who jumps to conclusions based on such flimsy evidence as testimony from a close living relative or official statements. But not Wikipedians! They need facts. Which is why there is currently a raging debate on the site over whether Ride was gay, or a lesbian, or a "queer," or a bisexual, or all of the above, or the first lesbian in space, or whether any of it matters.

As we speak, despite the efforts of several editors, Ride's entry does not contain the word "gay" or "lesbian," though it mentions both her five-year marriage in the 1980s to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley and her "partner, who is female, Tam E. O'Shaughnessy." When a few reckless souls tried to explicitly mention her gayness at the top of Ride's entry, they were shot down for some hilarious reasons, which are memorialized on the entry's history page. Like: "The partner's gender is not relevent to an encyclopedia article about Sally Ride." Because who needs to know basic biographical details about the subject of the encyclopedia article they are reading?

When one user replied that "trying to suppress her pioneering status as a lesbian is bigoted and deceitful," another pointed out that she "was married to a man when she went into space." This gets deep, huh? Are lesbian astronauts really lesbian astronauts if they weren't lesbians when they became astronauts (because it goes without saying that lesbians can't marry men)? Over on the talk page for Sally Ride, where users discussed whether it was appropriate to tag her page as "LGBT," it gets even more metaphysical:

I see that some editors have added her to two LGBT-related categories today, after her death was announced. This is probably due to the CNN article on her death with a sentence that states, "Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy, her mother, her sister, and other family members." While the name mentioned is typically identified as a female name, Ms. Ride never identified with the LGBT movement nor publicly identified herself as a lesbian. I am not sure that categorizing her as "LGBT" is appropriate, as she never really "came out". WTF? (talk) 22:23, 23 July 2012 (UTC)

Wikipedia should stick to the facts. Being in a relationship with someone of the same sex does not automatically make you Lesbian/Gay. They could be Bisexual, one of a great variety of sexualities, or even consider themselves Straight. It's a self identification about your attraction, which no one else can know for certain. About as far as we can go is report on what people who knew Sally Ride have said, i.e. "x [reliable] source states she was a Lesbian", if that person said so in so many words. I would certainly be loath to put her in any LGBT categories if she never publicly stated that she was LGBT. ChiZeroOne (talk) 11:15, 24 July 2012 (UTC)

The current version of the article states "the fact that Ride was in a lesbian relationship with O'Shaugnessy was made by both Ride's sister and by a spokesperson for Sally Ride Science. " We do NOT know this for a fact and Sally Ride cannot refute it because she is dead. A more objective version could be "The report that Ride was in a lesbian relationship with O'Shaugnessy was made bt both Ride's sister and by a spokesperson for Sally Ride Science after her death."

Indeed, and note also that in saying "the first lesbian", the article is also making an assumption about the sexualities of [Russian astronauts] Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya. (They were both married, but inferring anything from that would be unreferenced synthesis.) "Queer" is a more political term; it might be appropriate if Ride had publically identified as queer, but as far as I know she didn't. —David-Sarah Hopwood ⚥ (talk) 02:30, 24 July 2012 (UTC)

There's another logical gap: according to this bio, Tam O'Shaughnessy was Sally Ride's partner of 27 years, i.e. since 1985. But the article says that "in 1983 [Ride] became the first American woman, the first lesbian [...] to enter space", and it doesn't logically follow that she was a lesbian in 1983. (It does sometimes happen that people's sexuality can change significantly in two years; mine did.) —David-Sarah Hopwood ⚥ (talk) 02:43, 24 July 2012 (UTC)

And that's how Wikipedia performs its essential function of distilling the world's knowledge into simple, digestible, useful, factual terms.

[Via Glenn Greenwald; image by Jim Cooke]