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Candidate tells Chinese supporters she still opposes transgender restroom policy, gives different message in English

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School board candidate Josephine Zhao has come under fire for transphobic statements made to Chinese language newspapers in 2013. (Courtesy photo)

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School board candidate Josephine Zhao is managing a neat trick: telling English-language San Franciscans she supports the transgender community, and telling the Chinese-language community she does not.

Now, however, On Guard has exclusively obtained text messages where Zhao openly admits — in written Chinese — to giving the two communities two different messages.

And, she also admits in those text messages, she does not support gender-neutral bathrooms.

That’s a tough position for a politician running to lead the San Francisco Unified School District this November, which has policies in place to require new buildings include single-stall bathrooms labeled “all gender” and has a policy in place to encourage multi-stall bathrooms for all genders.

Zhao, a local activist and first-time politician, has become a lightning rod in the Board of Education race for her comments to the Chinese-language press in 2013, where she said the transgender bathroom bill would lead to “rape” in schools.

She has since apologized, profusely, repeatedly, and asked for time to learn and grow.

But her text-messaged statements to the Chinese community also directly contradict her apologies in the English-language press, and to prominent local politicians, some of whom have still maintained their endorsements of her despite the heat, including state Sen. Scott Wiener and Mayor London Breed.

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

In the texts I obtained, sent to a 480-plus person group on the platform WeChat (which is a favored social media platform in the local Chinese community), Zhao wrote in Chinese “This time I learned some tactics.”

“Moving forward, should coordinate internally and externally,” she said, which my translators (I asked a few folks from various professional backgrounds to help) said had some shades to it. Zhao was apparently saying she must moderate what she communicates publicly versus privately, among in-groups.

“I filled out the questionnaire casually in order to deal with external folks,” she wrote, referring to supporting the transgender bathroom bill. “My principles remain in my heart.”

“I only apologized for the misunderstanding of their legislation, and am not supporting gender-neutral bathrooms,” she wrote.

Zhao did not respond to my requests for comment. It should be noted that Zhao has raised the most cash in this race so far, and with her $78,000 war-chest and big name backers, she’s on the easy road to victory.

This newest revelation also comes after an excellent in-depth report by Mission Local’s Joe Eskenazi into Zhao’s history opposing transgender access to bathrooms in 2013, and his own discovery of text messages wherein Zhao brags of her recent notoriety over the transgender controversy.

After all the attacks over the transgender issue, she wrote to her WeChat group, “I am even more well-known.”

(It’s a fair warning to her detractors: She has a point. All this controversy may actually be raising her name ID. If you want Zhao out of the race, attacking her could have a “Trump effect,” of actually boosting her candidacy.)

While Zhao has maintained she was “mistaken” about the transgender bathroom bill and downplayed her opposition in an editorial she penned for the San Francisco Examiner, Eskenazi’s deep dive into her history shows quite the opposite is true: Zhao played a central role in opposing the California gender-neutral bathroom bill, AB 1266, where she spoke passionately about it alongside the Pacific Justice Institute, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an “anti-LGBT hate group.”

Eskenazi’s reporting also revealed Zhao called Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer a “race-traitor” and “Chinese trash” on the WeChat platform, which Fewer told me she found “unprofessional” for someone seeking political office.

“When referring to me as a “race traitor,” it is unfortunate that she would stoop to using a term created by white supremacists and used by the KKK,” Fewer told me Wednesday.

Much hay has been made about giving people time and space to change. Moderate Democrats supporting Zhao have, in private, told me to ease up on her as a first-time politician and immigrant who may need to adjust to new ways in a new country. But you know what? Zhao has been here 30 years, she’s had plenty of time.

And though I only just revealed her latest texts to the Chinese community, it should be noted that at least one of Breed’s Chinese-language community staffers is in Zhao’s WeChat.

They can’t play ignorant when they’ve had the opportunity to see this all themselves.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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