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According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, 51 percent of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual workers hide their sexual identity to most or all of their fellow employees. Citing those findings, gay-rights activists have been pushing, so for in vain, for Congress to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communications, said his initial reaction to the revelation about Sally Ride was, “What a shame that we didn’t learn this while she was alive.”

“However, the fact it was acknowledged in death will be an incredibly powerful message to all Americans about the contributions of their LGBT counterparts,” Sainz said. “The completeness of her life will be honored correctly.”

Ride’s sister, Bear Ride, a lesbian who has been active in gay-rights causes, e-mailed a supportive explanation of Ride’s choice.

“She was just a private person who wanted to do things her way,” she wrote. “She hated labels (including `hero’).”

Carolyn Porco, a prominent planetary scientist and leader of the imaging team on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, met Ride many years ago when she was an astronaut candidate, already steeped in the NASA mindset of reserve and self-effacement.

“Following her career all these years, she struck me as a woman of impeccable class, and it doesn’t surprise she wanted to keep her private life private,” Porco said. “I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, and I’d love for us all to get to the place where it doesn’t matter anymore.”

That’s been a common theme in the commentary about Ride’s relationship _ a hope that American society will someday reach a point where being gay or lesbian is no more noteworthy than being straight.

Sarah Blazucki, editor of Philadelphia Gay News, said that day has not arrived.

“It’s still important to come out, because we’re not post-gay yet,” she said. “When we do have full equality, then it’s a different story.”

She expressed respect for Ride’s choices, but also regret.

“In the long run, everyone in the LGBT community and those who will follow benefit from someone coming out,” Blazucki said. “It’s sad that she felt she had to wait.”

Another gay journalist, widely followed blogger Bil Browning, said the revelation about Ride left him with mixed feelings.

“I wish that she had come out while she was alive,” he said. “The statement that would have been sent to young lesbians across the country would have been like Obama’s election was to African-American kids.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged generational differences and said Ride was entitled to her privacy.

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