Yesterday, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away after battling pancreatic cancer for a year and a half. But hidden in her obituary was a surprise — she was survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years. Tam O'Shaughnessy is a woman.
Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy partnered with Ride to author several books and run the Sally Ride Science, Ride's company that sought to make science fun and accessible to young people, girls in particular. Dr. O'Shaughnessy is a former tennis pro and a professor emeritus of psychology at San Diego State University. She and Ride met when they were girls, according to the company website, and remained friends throughout their lives, but became romantic partners in 1985, which means that when Ride and O'Shaughnessy first got together, Ride was still married to her husband, fellow astronaut Steven Hawley, whom she ended up divorcing in 1987.
Ride's sexual orientation was confirmed by her sister, Bear, who told the New Times that Ride didn't go public with her sexuality during her life because she was intensely private person and considered sexual orientation no one's business but her own. Although she didn't make a big "HERE I AM! GAY ASTRONAUT SALLY!" announcement to the world, she didn't make an effort to hide it, either. People close to Sally and Tam knew; the two would go out in public together, attend events together, and Ride's family considered O'Shaugnessy a part of the gang.
So it's extra rich that Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who announced to cheers earlier this year that he's support a federal amendment explicitly barring same-sex marriage, sent the following RIP tweet yesterday: "Sally Ride ranks among the greatest of pioneers. I count myself among the millions of Americans she inspired with her travels to space."
Sally Ride, you were an inspiration. (But I still think that if you'd been legally allowed to marry your partner of 27 years, you'd threaten the very fabric of society! Sorry!)