With astronaut and author Sally Ride’s passing at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer, we are also learning that she was a lesbian. This announcement has been made quietly, coming in the last lines of her obituary with “Ride’s office said she is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.” The revelation has been met with a bit of pride and a bit of sadness that we didn’t know this information earlier. Blogger Bil Browning sums up the conflict best “‘I wish that she had come out while she was alive,’ he said. ‘The statement that would have been sent to young lesbians across the country would have been like Obama’s election was to African-American kids.’ On the other hand, he acknowledged generational differences and said Ride was entitled to her privacy.”
I understand privacy. Certainly, no one wants to be hounded by paparazzi or TMZ about their relationships and not every Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) person wants to be on the cover of People with the statement, “Yup, I’m Gay.” These LGBT people just want what we all want; to live their lives with the day-to-day regularity that most of us do. The problem isn’t so much when well known public figures who are gay don’t come out, but when well know public figures who aren’t gay or who are, but want to be private about it, don’t come out in support of us.
Let’s take three famous examples: Queen Latifah, Tom Cruise and Kenny Chesney. Everyone who’s gay or not knows that these three have constantly had gay rumors swirl around them. They either deny them outright or they say they don’t want to discuss their private life, which is fine. To each their own. The missing part of their responses is that they don’t use the opportunity to further the discussion with qualifying in some way that ‘gay is okay.’ Within their responses they have the opportunity to help educate; to help foster an enviornment of acceptance; to help get us closer to that day where we can all live day-to-day ho-hum lives. Whether they are gay or not or choose doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that they miss a golden opportunity. They miss the opportunity to make a strong a statement about how gay people should be treated with dignity and respect. They miss an opportunity to help better the lives of every LGBT person just a much as someone who comes out of the closet by being mute on their support of any gay friends, family, fans or strangers.