Claiming Sally Ride

The Internet is fighting over her personal legacy

Published July 24, 2012 10:12PM (EDT)

Who inherits Sally Ride’s personal life? Ride never came out publicly as a lesbian, but after obituaries on her website and in the New York Times referred to her partner of 27 years, Tam E. O'Shaughnessy, many gays and lesbians have leapt to claim her as one of their own. Though it seems not everyone has been happy about it.

Earlier today Salon’s Glenn Greenwald tweeted: “Several people have emailed me to say that their edits to Ride's Wikipedia entry mentioning her lesbianism are being systematically deleted.”

As of this writing, the site devotes a paragraph to the relationship. In fact, there’s a discussion, among Wikipedians, about when exactly the page should add the reference. The post doesn’t disappoint in its internecine detail, with sub-discussions about whether "lesbian" is the appropriate word, since Ride was once married to a man, and if International Business Times counts as an acceptable reference.

Before taking aim at the media, Andrew Sullivan calls Ride “the absent heroine” for not being more forthright during her lifetime. “She had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to.” Now that everyone knows, he turns around and blames the Times for not trumpeting the news.

The only thing preventing the NYT from writing an honest obit is homophobia. The NYT does not routinely only mention someone's spouse in the survivors section. When you have lived with someone for 27 years, some account of that relationship is surely central to that person's life. To excise it completely is an act of obliteration.

This doesn’t quite hold up. Andy Griffith’s recent notice, a three-pager like Ride’s, dispatches with his three wives in one paragraph, with virtually no discussion of the relationships. The Times notes the beginnings of partnerships every week in Weddings and Celebrations but scoring a last word in the paper depends on achievements outside the home.

By Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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