Tam O’Shaughnessy, Partner of Astronaut Sally Ride, On 27 Years of Love
November 19, 2013 by Maureen McCarty, HRC Associate Director of Digital Media
Loyalty, a stick-with-it attitude, and luck – those are the key to Sally Ride and Tam O'Shaughnessy’s 27 years of love.
Tam and Sally first met over a shared fondness for tennis at the age 12. It was then, over tennis matches and camps that they embarked on a lifelong friendship, which blossomed into a deep and lasting relationship.
“Being in love is the best feeling, and I was in love with her until the day she died,“ said Tam.
The two, after reuniting in 1985, shared a mutual passion for science. In 2001, the couple founded the Sally Ride Science Foundation, which aims to foster interest in science and math in students grades four through eight. Because of the now-repealed Proposition 8, which banned marriage equality in California for years, the two were unable to legally marry. Instead, Sally and Tam had a domestic partnership, which, according to Tam, “allowed us to be as close as we could.”
Because Sally Ride was a deeply private person, they did not publically acknowledge their relationship until after her death in 2012.
“It’s scary to be open because you don’t realized the impact that it might have on so many aspects of your life,” said Tam. “You worry about grants, about whether you’ll be able to continue writing children’s textbooks; we were scared that if sponsors knew the founders of Sally Ride Science were two lesbians, if that would affect our organization.”
According to Tam, just one week before Sally passed, the couple discussed how they would address their relationship in her obituary.
“It was then that I realized no one knows who I am,” said Tam. “I asked Sally, “What are we going to do about that” and she surprised me. ‘You decide,’ she said and that shocked me. That girl was great about surprises.”
And so, with the encouragement and support of friends and family, Tam penned Sally Ride’s obituary with the inclusion of the line, ““In addition toTam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years…”
With these ten words, Tam was able to give Sally one last gift, the gift of openness.
“I wanted to ensure Sally’s legacy reflected the integrity in which she lived her life, said Tam. “For her not to be open in this one way felt wrong.”
Sally Ride’s posthumous coming out was received with open arms and positivity.
“I’ve found that people really valued the relationship,” said Tam. “It didn’t matter that we were two women; what mattered was our relationship’s longevity and our love.”
Today, an overwhelming majority of Americans support the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. In fact, more than 33 percent of Americans – a full third - live in a state with marriage equality.
For Tam, this incredible progress is credited to those brave LGBT individuals who blazed a trail, much like Sally did for women and science.
“The ideal America is one where no one – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, -- is a second class citizen,” said Tam. “With each protection and freedom and equality achieved, I feel safer in my state and prouder to be an American.”
Tomorrow, President Obama will honor Sally Ride’s legacy, along with that of Bayard Rustin, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Tam O’Shaughnessy will be present at the ceremony, alongside members of Sally’s family, to accept on Sally’s behalf.
“This award sends a message to the world, including to Russia, that equality is important, respect is important,” said Tam.
Tam, at HRC headquarters talking to staff about her relationship with Sally.
Tam answers questions from HRC staff.
July 30, 2014