Gay Lawmaker Wants to Replace Statuary Hall Figure of Missionary Headed for Sainthood With Lesbian Astronaut

By Lauretta Brown | February 12, 2015 | 4:34 PM EST

National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

(CNSNews.com) – An openly gay State Senator in California has introduced legislation to replace a statue of Catholic missionary Father Junipero Serra in National Statuary Hall with a statue of Sally Ride, the first female U.S. astronaut and a lesbian.

The move by State Senator Ricardo Lara comes just weeks after Pope Francis announced plans to elevate Serra to sainthood.

“Dr. Sally Ride is a California native, American hero and stratospheric trailblazer who devoted her life to pushing the limits of space and inspiring young girls to succeed in math and science careers,” Lara said in a statement.

“She is the embodiment of the American dream whose accomplishments and life work will encourage future generations to reach for the stars and celebrate diversity and inclusivity.”

If the legislation is successful Ride would be the first member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the first woman representing California to be placed in the hall at the U.S. Capitol.

The proposal, according to Lara’s office, “aims to relocate the statue of Father Junipero Serra, known as an eloquent preacher and founder of numerous missions throughout California, at a location in California where citizens and visitors can enjoy it and be reminded of his significant historical impact upon our state.”

"Though Father Serra is a controversial figure, this effort is about recognizing the invaluable contributions of an accomplished Californian and American pioneer: Dr. Sally Ride," Lara told the Los Angeles Times.

Some Los Angeles Native American groups have protested the pope’s decision to canonize Serra, charging that he oppressed Native Americans and forced them to abandon their customs.

But Monsignor Francis J. Weber, an author and historian of the 18th century missionary, has rejected the characterization of Serra as “controversial.”

“You see all of these accusations against Serra, but not one of them can be validated by a responsible historian,” Weber told the Catholic News Agency.

Weber described Serra as a hero to the Native Americans. “California today is what he started it out to be,” he said, “Things have progressed a lot in 200 years, but he set the foundation.”

“The Native Americans, I think, are being utilized by these people who have a rather warped view of what evangelization is all about,” he said. “I’m convinced that the questions about Junipero Serra are really not about Serra himself, who simply epitomized Catholic evangelization. I’m convinced that this is an attack on all of Catholic evangelization throughout the world.”

Authorized by Congress in 1864, the National Statuary Hall Collection allows each state to provide two statues of notable state historical figures for display in the U.S. Capitol.

Along with Serra, California is currently represented in the collection by President Ronald Reagan.

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