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For California, Gay Astronaut Beats Sainthood

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Which Californian represents the state’s splendor and greatness most appropriately;  the Catholic saint who founded nine settlements that grew into major cities or a recently deceased astronaut who completed two missions on the space shuttle?

Does the answer change because the astronaut in question – Sally Ride– happened to be female and gay?

Apparently it does, because the California legislature is working to remove an 85-year-old statue of Father Junipero Serra from its place of honor in the Capitol building and to replace it with a newly-commissioned image of Dr. Ride in her space suit.

In Statuary Hall, the original site of the House of Representatives Chamber, each state has been invited since 1864 to place two sculptures representing the most notable figures in that state’s history. For instance, Virginia long ago selected George Washington and Robert E. Lee (Jefferson and Madison might quibble, but never mind). Oklahoma chose the Native American leader Sequoyah and pop-culture philosopher Will Rogers.

At the moment, Ronald Reagan and Junipero Serra represent the Golden State. Reagan replaced the Civil War era Unitarian Minister and pro-Union activist Thomas Starr King in 2009. Father Serra has occupied his place of honor since 1931 – and with good reason. Between 1769 and 1782, the Franciscan friar overcame his own physical infirmities and overwhelming obstacles of every sort to establish the mission system that shaped the early identity of the then-Spanish province. The nine missions he personally founded, by walking from today’s Mexican border all the way to San Francisco despite a crippled leg, organized the agricultural economy of the area while converting thousands of local Indians to Christianity. Serra also used his immense influence to protect local tribes from rapacious Spanish governors and soldiers, learned Native languages to translate the Bible and other religious texts, and left a record of such unselfish, generous and devout behavior that Pope Francis has announced plans to officially canonize him as a Saint during the Holy Father’s upcoming visit to the United States.

In fact, the California legislature seems perversely determined to authorize removal of Serra’s image from Statuary Hall just in time to undermine the planned ceremony and celebration.


Two reasons immediately suggest themselves — both stemming from the virus of political correctness that has so catastrophically infected the Golden State.

First, Serra (despite his looming status as Saint Junipero) has become controversial to progressives because his prodigious work as a missionary served to introduce literacy, the wheel, agriculture, clothing, metals and other rudiments of civilization to the local natives in Alta California, thereby dooming their stone age indigenous cultures.

Second, there’s the matter of Sally Ride’s gender and sexual orientation. State Senator Ricardo Lara, the openly gay legislator who introduced the resolution to authorize the statue switch, proudly declared: “Sally Ride will be the first woman to represent California and the first person to represent the L.G.B.T. community in the Capitol. It’s about modernizing our heroes.”

Never mind the fact that Dr. Ride, a Stanford-educated physicist before she worked for NASA, fiercely guarded all details of her private life and only authorized publicity for her long-term lesbian relationship after her death in 2012. Republicans in the legislature nonetheless joined Senator Lara in promoting the canonization of Saint Sally to trump the planned canonization of Saint Junipero. GOP solon Ted Gaines told the New York Times: “It shouldn’t matter what someone’s sexual orientation is. Let’s strive for exceptionalism. Sally Ride clearly exemplifies that.”

Objecting to this line of thinking should involve no disrespect to the memory of Dr. Ride who, by all accounts, performed her astronaut duties with competence and dedication, and devoted her last years to useful efforts for promoting science education in the schools. And Senator Gaines is clearly correct when he insists that “it shouldn’t matter what someone’s sexual orientation is.”

But is it even vaguely conceivable that the drive to swap statues would sail through the legislature with no opposition – from either Democrats or Republicans – if Dr. Ride had remained married to the male astronaut (Dr. Stephen Hawley) to whom she was wed for five years before finding happiness in a twenty-five year relationship with another woman? Isn’t it obvious that the chief motivation for the clearly unstoppable drive to replace the indomitable, eighteenth century friar with the space shuttle veteran is to break ground by installing a gay icon in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall?

As is often the case, you can trace the blame back to Congress, which voted in 2003 to allow states to pull the switcheroo, replacing yesterday’s tarnished or obscure heroes with more trendy role models. To date, seven states have taken advantage of the opportunity. Over only mild objections, California previously replaced the nearly-anonymous Thomas Starr King with the ever-popular President Reagan. Alabama also drew nationwide support by honoring the inspiring memory of Helen Keller, in place of a former Confederate officer and advocate for public education, Jabez Curry. Ohio currently means to honor Buckeye-born inventor Thomas Edison by providing his statue in place of William Allen, an all-but-forgotten Democratic politician who served two years as governor in the 1870’s.

Father Serra, on the other hand, is hardly forgotten: he will arguably enjoy his greatest fame this September when he is recognized and venerated worldwide as a Saint. The legislative stampede to remove his image in favor of a fashionable, politically correct but inarguably minor figure from our recent pop culture suggests that California’s current problems run far deeper than the drought.


This column appeared first at

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Comments (15)

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  1. Bob Meyer  •  Apr 22, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Junipero Serra wrote tracts on the subject of the proper beating of slaves. He built the missions using involuntary labor. Apparently that’s far better than a relationship with someone of the same sex. However, neither slavery nor homosexuality is the real issue here.

    The real issue is religion. Should Serra be kept as a symbol of the supposed religious basis of the United States or should he be confined to cultural purgatory for his religious views? Should Sally Ride be praised for her achievements, or ignored because of her sexual preference that conflicts with certain religions? Pro-religion or anti-religion is the criterion.

    In these arguments the actual virtues and vices of Serra and Ride will be forgotten. Neither deserves that.

    • Gato  •  Apr 28, 2015 at 1:55 am

      Well when are we going to remove all traces of religion and change the names of all the cities like Los Angeles, (The Angels); San Francisco, (Saint Francis); San Juan, Saint John, etc.

  2. branwell  •  Apr 23, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Why is the gay issue so important to the yahoos on the right? When will Medved and his Medheads realize their days as cultural crusaders are over? The younger generation will none of his preachy pronouncements.

    • rgglick  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      Take care of the kind of world and culture that you are building as well as that which you are dismantling. Remember, you will have to live in it (or perhaps more correctly: SURVIVE in it), And you will not be a part of the “younger generation” forever. Beware the next wave’s “enlightenment”!

    • Alan Sullins  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Thats it, thats your argument? So shallow.

      • rgglick  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 3:53 pm

        Thank you so much. I take that as a compliment.

    • Brandon Courtney  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Whoa hold on a minute yahoos on the right? The Left wing senator is suggesting Ride in part because of her sexuality and not just her accomplishments so the left brought up the “gay issue”. The left constantly uses race, sexuality, ethic issues to promote their political goals and ideals (i.e. war on women to promote health care). What Medved is saying is that a person should be judged on their accomplishment alone; not whether the accomplished it while being Gay or Christian or anything else.

  3. WaitWhat  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Doesn’t it seem like you’re overthinking things? Maybe, just maybe the removal of Junipero Serra has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Catholic Saint or that Sally Ride was a gay astronaut. Mabye, just maybe it has something to do with the fact that most people have never even heard of Junipero Serra because he didn’t have a significant effect on recent history, whereas pretty much everyone knows who Sally Ride is.

    Take a poll, how many people know who Sally Ride is vs. how many people know who Junipero Serra is. I think you’ll find your answer right there.

    • sarno  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      He didn’t have a significant effect on recent history? He founded 7 major cities and his missions set up our state for success! Are you kidding!

  4. janis  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Lived in California till turned twenty. We were taught history back in those old days (fifty years ago)……now…heh. All that matters is the is the now. History be damned!
    Remember, learn from the past, or be doomed to repeat the failures of the past..

  5. Diane Joy Baker  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Why can’t we have two statues? After all, if this is Statuary Hall, isn’t there enough room for both? Ah, but if someone tried to commit such a reasonable act, there’d be no controversy, and oh, how the Left loves them their controversies. It’s the way they can get a wedge in and Take Over, along with outlawing debate.

  6. Jeff  •  Apr 24, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    This has nothing to do with Catholicism or sexual preferences. This is about who shaped California and left a lasting legacy. How did Sally Ride or any individual astronaut shape or significantly impact California? Outside of the state maybe people don’t know much about Father Serra, but if you live here or grew up here his presence is everywhere. 4th grade curriculum in all California schools include California history and a “Mission project”. There is no merit for Sally Ride’s candidacy to represent California. The fact that she is a woman or a lesbian means norhing in this case.

    • Laura Johnson Los Angeles  •  Apr 26, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Totally agree. It should be determined by who better represents our state and its history. Sally Ride could be honored in a Science school at a university or outside a NASA building… She doesn’t represent our state better than Father Serra. Just because millennials have little knowledge and appreciation for History doesn’t mean we should brush it aside in favor of a more popular figure. How sad. Anyone who has lived in CA should know the significance of Junipero Serra in our state’s history.

  7. American  •  Apr 25, 2015 at 2:20 am

    It’s really strange to know your entire life was spent watching the nation you were born into rapidly decline. Only about two or three more decades left before a great depression and social upheaval begin in earnest.

  8. James P  •  Apr 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    That long?

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