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Cal Anderson memorial tree removed unannounced, new tree planted

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Photo courtesy of Department of Enterprise Services
Photo courtesy of Department of Enterprise Services

In early August, the cherry tree at the state Capitol honoring the late Sen. Cal Anderson was chopped down, with no announcement. Anderson was the first openly Gay legislator in Washington state. Unfortunately, he passed away from AIDS in 1995.

The site was a reminder of the significance of Anderson's legacy. This was overlooked by the state's Department of Enterprise Services when the decision to remove the tree was made.

The reasoning was revealed by the department's spokesperson, Linda Kent, in a statement on the matter. "The tree was 90% dead. It posed a safety hazard," she said.

Photo courtesy of Department of Enterprise Services  

This put things into perspective, but the removal still drew criticism from the public and elected officials alike.

Denny Heck, the lieutenant governor, who worked with Anderson for many years and considered him a friend, claimed that removing the tree without notifying LGBTQ+ legislators would be equivalent to destroying the memorial. "This was a memorial, and to unilaterally not just make the decision but to implement it without any — what we call in this environment — stakeholder work, in other words, talking to folks, is to desecrate the site."

These criticisms made their way to Kent, and she admitted that the state made a mistake. Since the plan was always to replace the tree, Kent said that the department should have done a better job reaching out to stakeholders and finding the replacement tree sooner.

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a new tree be planted by the agency. The new cherry is 16 feet tall and perfectly healthy. Kent said that due to the possibility of future utility work in that area, however, the tree will likely have to be removed again.

Heck chimed in on the future of the tree, stating that he hopes for a new location for the memorial, and for that location to be bigger.

The story of the Cal Anderson memorial tree shows the importance of community agreement and oversight. Proper channels of communication were not utilized, leading to a violation of the LGBTQ+ community's trust. It is gratifying that the agency took responsibility for this, and hopefully it won't do anything similar in the future.

For now, you can see the new Cal Anderson memorial cherry tree at the state Capitol.