This International Women’s Day, it’s important that we #ChooseToChallenge hetero- and cis-normative ideas of womanhood. For this reason we’ll be celebrating the incredible achievements of two LGBT+ women in history, who have accomplished great things, and made their marks on the Gender Equality movement. Of course the women’s rights movement should always be intersectional, so here are the stories of two amazing women from differing backgrounds who deserve to be celebrated.
Elliot Atkinson, LGBTQ+ Network Chair
Ernestine Eckstein (1941-1992)
Ernestine Eckstein was ahead of her time in terms of her attitudes towards LGBT+ activism. In 1965, at a time when gay activism was dominated by white people, she stood as the only person of colour on the picket line during an early gay rights protest in front of the White House. She was an extremely active member, and eventually vice president, of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The DOB was the first lesbian civil rights organisation in America, with the majority of its members being white and focusing on obtaining medical recognition of gay people.
Eckstein fiercely placed emphasis on direct action in the form of protest, rather than on medical legitimisation. She described demonstrations as an “educational process of calling attention to unjustness.”
She was the first Black woman to feature on the cover of the DOB’s publication ‘The Ladder’ in June of 1966 and in her interview, called for progressive activism inclusive of equality for transgender people, hopeful for LGBTQ+ solidarity. Eckstein was a visionary, understood the intersectional nature of oppression and the importance culturally inclusive coalitions.
Later, in the 1970s, she relocated and became involved in the black feminist movement, joining Black Women Organized for Action (BWOA).
In her 1966 interview with The Ladder, Eckstein said:
“I would like to see in the homophile movement more people who can think. And I don’t believe we ought to look at their titles or at their sexual orientation. Movements should be intended, I feel, to erase labels, whether ‘black’ or ‘white’ or ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual”
Find the interview with Ernestine in the June 1966 issue of The Ladder here: https://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/sfbagals/The_Ladder/1966_Ladder_Vol10_No09_Jun.pdf
Sally Ride (1951-2012)
In 1973, Sally Ride received a Bachelor of Science in physics and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford, and continued on to earn her Master of Science and doctorate degrees in physics in 1975 and 1978.
Realizing that technological and scientific skills were essential to the future of the Space Program, NASA began searching for young scientists to serve as “mission specialists” in 1977. Ride was one of only five women selected for NASA’s class of 1978.
On June 18, 1983, Ride was one of five crewmembers aboard the space shuttle Challenger STS-7 (serving as the flight engineer), becoming the first American woman, and the youngest American, in space. When interviewed prior to mission launch, Dr Ride was of course, asked questions concerning her training. However, she was also asked how her fertility and ability to reproduce might be affected by going to space, and what makeup she would be taking with her. She graciously handled these questions, and said later that “It’s too bad this is such a big deal. It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.”
After her second shuttle mission, Ride worked on investigating the 1986 Challenger accident. After the investigation, she took the role of special assistant to the NASA administrator for long range and strategic planning. She later also became a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and served on the Advisory Board of the National Women’s History Museum.
Though she married fellow astronaut Steve Hawley in 1982, they divorced in 1987, and was open about her relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy. Meeting as children, their friendship blossomed into love, and their relationship as partners and business partners lasted 27 years. Ride was the first astronaut to be acknowledged as gay. When President Obama posthumously awarded Dr Ride with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, Tam O’Shaughnessy accepted the award on her behalf.
As a woman in science, Ride was passionate about helping young women foster an interest in science, and about improving scientific education. She eventually established Sally Ride Science with her partner O’Shaughnessy, and worked to encourage children from all backgrounds to explore STEM subjects.
Find out more about Sally Ride Science at: https://sallyridescience.ucsd.edu/