SACRAMENTO — A proposal to represent California inside the U.S. Capital with a statue of the late astronaut Sally Ride was approved by a state Assembly committee Tuesday.
The California Senate has already approved the plan, which still needs approval from the full Assembly and the governor.
Each state chooses two statues to display for at least 10 years in the National Statuary Hall. The Ride statue would replace one of Father Junipero Serra that has been in place since 1931.
Seven years ago, the state added a statue of Ronald Reagan, which replaced the image of Thomas Starr King, a Civil War-era politician who helped keep California in the Union. His statue also had been installed in 1931.
Supporters of the Senate Joint Resolution 4, proposed by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, appeared before the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media on Tuesday to argue that a statute of Ride would be inspirational to girls, women and the LGBT community.
Ride, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, was the first American woman in space, a professor emeritus of physics at UC San Diego, and a lesbian.
“Dr. Sally Ride is an icon and an inspiration for women and girls and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Jo Michael, legislative manager at Equality California.
“We believe it is high time for the LGBT community, and particularly LGBT youth, to be able to see someone represent our community at this level and demonstrate that LGBT people can and do make history through their achievements,” he said.
(Correction: This story has been updated with the proper title and pronoun used to identifying Michael. The quote was also corrected to fix a typo and add a missing word.)
The committee unanimously supported the proposal Tuesday, but members also stressed that they meant no disrespect to Serra.
“In no way are we denying the contribution of Father Serra to California and to the United States, but I think this is a time when we move forward,” Assembly member Kansen Chu, D-San Jose.
“I don’t see this as something that should be seen as a reform on Father Serra or something that speaks negatively of him,” said Ian Calderon, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the committee. “I think this is just about modernizing our symbolizes. California can be a leader in who we honor in our Statuary Hall.”
Although the discussion on Tuesday focused mostly on the positive reasons for the state to honor Ride and Serra, the proposal has sparked a debate with some heated accusations on both sides.
The website Catholic Online this week wrote about the debate in a story that carried the headline, “California legislators who HATE Catholics want Father Juniper Serra statue OUT of Capitol.”
A CitizenGo.org petition to keep the Serra statue in place has been signed by 46,000 people. Catholic News Agency Executive Director Alejandro Bermudez, who posted the petition, characterized the proposal in a NewsTaco article as state legislators trying to “banish” one of only two Latinos from Statuary Hall.
Joining others with a similar criticism of the proposal, he also wrote that it added “insult to injury” to suggest the move just before Pope Francis’ scheduled Sept. 23 trip to Washington, D.C., to canonize Serra.
In recent years, however, many people have criticized Serra and the mission system for its treatment of Native Americans. Ron Andrade, director of Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, called Serra “no saint to us” in a Los Angeles Times article about the canonization this year.
Mechelle Lawrence Adams, executive director of Mission San Juan Capistrano, spoke Tuesday in favor of keeping the statue in place, but also admitted that Serra is a controversial figure.
Ruben Mendoza, an archaeology professor at Cal State Monterey Bay, also spoke in favor of keeping the statue in place and called the proposal to move it a politicized effort.
Mendoza stressed Serra’s contributions to California’s heritage in his presentation.
“The fundamental political economy of California was introduced by virtue of Father Serra’s efforts,” he said, adding that farming, water ways and even the way California maps land today were all influenced by Serra.
Mendoza also said Serra helped with the American Revolutionary War by collecting money that was sent to Gen. George Washington.