Gil and Marilyn's conversation: Sally Ride & exploring the outer space of visibility

July 24, 2012 Dear Marilyn,

It is 9:06 pm in Asbury Park, New Jersey as I write this. I am thinking of these words in Bob Dylan's song “Blowin’ in the Wind”:

"How many years can some people exist, before they're allowed to be free? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind."

I am thinking of the names of two women whose names probably are unknown to most persons. They are Nancy Earl and Tam O'Shaughnessy. But, if you link Nancy Earl to the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and Tam O'Shaughnessy to the Astronaut Sally Ride, who has just died, people might take notice.

Nancy Earl was the long-time partner of Barbara Jordan and Tam O'Shaughnessy was the same for Sally Ride –two "famous" women in a loving relationship with their female partners.

I wonder how many persons who for a variety of reasons oppose unions or marriages for same sex couples, while at the same time celebrate the contributions of Barbara Jordan and Sally Ride. Have these people been honest enough to review the rationale, legitimacy and fairness of their opposition?

How many more years will it take for same gender loving couples to be free? The wind is blowing "freedom". What will it take for persons to say yes to the wind?

Gil

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July 26, 2012

Dear Gil,

I've just read an provocative piece by Sandip Roy on The Huffington Post, "Why Canonize Sally Ride as a Gay Hero?" He asks if we should canonize Sally Ride for her sexual orientation and long term relationship. She did not publicly draw attention to herself as a lesbian, but apparently those close to her knew. Roy proposes that we have not come far enough that we can afford not to be open, that it isn't common practice to put "survived by partner" in obituaries, and even then, "partner" can be misconstrued to mean business partner.

Roy goes on, "One would like to think that society has come to a level of acceptance where there is no need to spell out the L-word... But we are not there. It's as if the admission of lesbianism could somehow diminish Sally Ride's achievements. We can perhaps reluctantly accept a gay hero but it's hard to accept a hero who turns out to have been gay. This is not about what Sally Ride would have wanted. It's about what we, as a society, want from our Sally Rides."

Barbara Jordan took a similar approach, that of not being open about being a lesbian and in a long term same sex relationship. Would it have made a difference if Jordan and Ride had? I think so. While I know fully that when we as LGBT persons make ourselves visible, we take the risk of being defined only by our sexual orientation. The personal becomes political. However, there is a point where the focus shifts and our accomplishments leave those who would reduce us to a particular identity in the dust. We've come along way since Ellen came out. I remember attending a party to watch Ellen come out on her sitcom, one of many social events held around the country. Now, Ellen has gone on with her fabulous work. Anderson Cooper, only weeks away from his "coming out," has left the headlines.

So while the answer to our freedom may be "blowin' in the wind," our self empowerment doesn't need to. We can be visible, embrace all of who we are, and then continue to make a positive difference in our society. When we do, we bring along those who live in fear and danger, taking them one step closer to their freedom.

Stay strong, Marilyn

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