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Candidate needs to withdraw from school board race in wake of transphobic remarks, conflicting statements

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A text message from Board of Education candidate Josephine Zhao to a 400-plus person WeChat group. (Courtesy image)

As co-chairs of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, we feel a specific responsibility to speak up and take action when we see anti-LGBT rhetoric, fear-mongering, and racist hate speech used in political life in San Francisco.

Less than a month ago, school board candidate Josephine Zhao publicly apologized for comments she made in 2013 regarding legislation that allows transgender students to participate in school programs and sports activities and use bathrooms and lockers that align with their gender identity.

Ms. Zhao said that she based her comments on the wrong information and apologized for any hurt she may have caused. Yet on Monday, Mission Local released statements she made on WeChat, as recently as August 29, 2018, that run in direct contradiction to her apology. We won’t detail all those statements here, but her stereotyping of gay candidates, name-calling of our sister LGBT Democratic club, and her use of racial epithets to describe elected officials – or anyone – are abhorrent and have no place in San Francisco.

We reached out to Ms. Zhao asking for clarification or explanation. While she took issue with the translation of one word (“ideology”), she otherwise did not deny, explain, or apologize for her other statements.

Ms. Zhao’s statements back in 2013, in 2016, and just a few weeks ago, fuel misinformation and hate. And for someone seeking to serve in public office to set policy for our children’s education, her candidacy was and continues to be unacceptable.

According to the Trevor Project, lesbian gay, and bisexual youth are about five times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight counterparts. Forty percent of transgender adults have made a suicide attempt, with 92 percent of those having attempted it before the age of 26. According to the National Institutes of Health, Asian American college students are also more likely than their peers to attempt suicide, and less likely to seek out professional help. The persistence of not just anti-LGBT, but also racist rhetoric has real and pervasive consequences for our young people.

We certainly hold no personal animus toward Ms. Zhao, and we believe people can change. But it is clear that she has not changed yet.

She explained to us this week that she is still on a “personal growth” journey with respect to the LGBT community. Yet we continue to see evidence of her telling one community one thing and another community something entirely different. The Examiner’s September 6 column discloses more of her WeChat messages stating her staunch opposition to gender neutral bathrooms and intention to better coordinate her conflicting messages depending on her targeted audience.

It goes without saying that this is not the time for her to hold public office.

Alice did not endorse Ms. Zhao’s candidacy for Board of Education, but we did recently accept a $225 donation from her for our annual Pride Breakfast. We will be donating her contribution to LYRIC, an LGBTQQ community center in the Castro that works toward social justice and building a community that respects and supports all youth.

We have asked Ms. Zhao to consider ending her bid for Board of Education. We also call on all elected officials and other Democratic clubs that have endorsed Ms. Zhao to end their support for her candidacy immediately.

We are living in a time of polarizing and hateful rhetoric on a national scale that has exposed the underbelly of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and hatred that has permeated most of this country for far too long. As San Franciscans, we pride ourselves on being a place of inclusivity, equality, and safety. The kind of prejudice communicated by Ms. Zhao has no place in our city, especially in our public education system. Our elected representatives, and those running for office, have a responsibility to take a stand against it. We hope they will join us.

Eric Lukoff and Gina Simi are co-chairs of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the oldest LGBT democratic club in the nation.

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