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Remembering Sally Ride: America's first woman (and lesbian) to fly in space

 Sally Ride in 2009

AP

In her life, Sally Ride took one small step for womankind by being the first American woman to enter space. But it was in her death that she was able to take one giant leap for humankind.

Ms. Ride, 61, died on Monday, succumbing to pancreatic cancer. As the media alerts dinged on people's phones, the obituaries started to roll out online. But one – the one posted on Dr. Ride's web site – has been making news for its subtle admission that Ms. Ride was not only the first American woman in space. She was also the first lesbian.

"In addition to Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country."

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Ms. Ride's sister, Bear Ride, confirmed the announcement in an interview with BuzzFeed.

"I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them," Bear said.

But why did Ms. Ride wait to make this posthumous announcement? Her sister, who is also gay, credits their Norwegian ancestry and its value of privacy. Bear also suggested that Ms. Ride felt there were other issues she could fight for.

"That [LGBT rights] wasn't her battle of choice -- the battle of choice was science education for kids," she said. "And I just hope that all the different components of Sally's life go towards helping kids."

The surprising obituary admission is one of a series of celebrity sexuality announcements in the last month. First, TV reporter Anderson Cooper revealed his homosexuality in a blog post. A week later, R&B singer Frank Ocean received accolades from much of the hip hop community for sharing that his story of unrequited love was with a man.

But for burgeoning feminist girls who idolized Ms. Ride, the news of her sexuality was much more than just another famous person coming out. It's another trail Ms. Ride quietly blazed.

"Yes, the first woman from the USA in space was a lesbian. One of our national heroes was gay," wrote Veronica Arreola, the director of the University of Illinois, Chicago Women in Science & Engineering Program.

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"Even in death she continues to teach us. Thank you, Dr. Ride. For everything."

Do you think this personal revelation will change Dr. Ride's legacy?

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About the Author

Madeleine White is the Assistant National Editor for The Globe and Mail. She has been with the Globe since 2011 and previously worked in the Globe's Video and Features departments, covering topics ranging from fitness and health to real estate to indigenous education. More

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