Sally Ride: Why aren't there any openly gay astronauts? (+video)
Most people didn't know that the first American woman in space, astronaut Sally Ride, was a lesbian until her obituaries were published on Monday. Is being openly gay a career-wrecker for astronauts?
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"Certainly we try to be open with their professional activities and beyond that what they reveal privately is pretty much up to them," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named. Still, the fact remains that no astronauts have ever come out as gay or lesbian, while many astronauts include mention of their husbands, wives or children on their NASA official biography pages. (As of today, Ride's NASA bio page was updated to mention that she is survived by her mother, with no mention of her partner.)Skip to next paragraph
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Cassutt said even though he suspects there are or have been some other gay or lesbian astronauts, and in spite of the progress made on LGBT issues, "I don't expect anyone in the current corps to be 'out' any time soon, assuming anyone is gay."
The implication is that even in 2012, a same-sex orientation could still earn an astronaut unwanted notoriety that would detract from a mission. Robert Pearlman, space historian and founding editor of collectSPACE.com (a SPACE.com partner site), said the choice to shield one's sexuality "unfortunately cannot yet be labeled 'behind the times.' While there are a great many more people who are openly gay today, we are not yet to a point of universal acceptance," he noted.
There is also the fact that 219 of the 330 current and former astronauts served in the military, according to NASA. The U.S. military operated under a "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy from 1993 until 2011, under which gay and lesbian servicemen and women had to remain closeted or risk expulsion. The repeal of DADT last year allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military for the first time in history.
Of NASA's continued culture of no one asking and no one telling, Gaffney of Marriage Equality USA said, "Ultimately, it's a culture that needs to and will change. Harvey Milk said, 'Come out, come out, wherever you are.' The point being that the world needs to know, and LGBT youth need to see, that we really are everywhere and that includes people in every walk of life. Some professions have been quicker to change than others. Every profession is going to change. And the news this week about Sally Ride is just one more example of that."
He added, "It will be part of her legacy that change will come to her profession as well."
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