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In pop culture, the fine arts, the entertainment industry, and in some individual sports, it’s now commonplace for luminaries to be out as gay or lesbian. But in many other fields, the dynamics are different.
Aside from Ride, no other astronaut of any nation has come out as gay. No active player in the four major North American pro sports leagues — football, basketball, baseball, hockey — has come out as gay, though some retired players have done so. Ken Mehlman came out as gay only after he completed his stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Back in 2002, baseball star Mike Piazza — then playing with the New York Mets — rebutted rumors by holding a news conference to declare, “I’m not gay.” Queen Latifah, the hip-hop star and actress, has countered comparable speculation over the years by refusing to discuss her personal life.
According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, 51 percent of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual workers hide their sexual identity to most or all of their fellow employees. Citing those findings, gay-rights activists have been pushing, so for in vain, for Congress to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communications, said his initial reaction to the revelation about Sally Ride was, “What a shame that we didn’t learn this while she was alive.”
“However, the fact it was acknowledged in death will be an incredibly powerful message to all Americans about the contributions of their LGBT counterparts,” Sainz said. “The completeness of her life will be honored correctly.”
Ride’s sister, Bear Ride, a lesbian who has been active in gay-rights causes, e-mailed a supportive explanation of Ride’s choice.
“She was just a private person who wanted to do things her way,” she wrote. “She hated labels (including ‘hero’).”
Carolyn Porco, a prominent planetary scientist and leader of the imaging team on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, met Ride many years ago when she was an astronaut candidate, already steeped in the NASA mindset of reserve and self-effacement.