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School board candidate loses endorsements over transgender comments

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Supervisor Catherine Stefani speaks at a press conference where Mayor Mark Farrell announced a reduction in car break-ins in city-owned parking garages on top of the Stockton and Sutter streets parking garage on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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Two major endorsers dropped their support for school board candidate Josephine Zhao this week following the revelation of comments she made in the Chinese language press in 2013 that a transgender bathroom law could lead to “rape” in schools.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani and supervisor candidate Christine Johnson pulled their endorsement for Zhao this week, who is running for the Board of Education this November.

Both face elections in November: Stefani for District 2, representing neighborhoods including the Marina and Pacific Heights neighborhoods, and Johnson for District 6, representing the South of Market and the Tenderloin neighborhoods.

Zhao gave her first apology for the remarks she made in 2013 just this week, which was reported exclusively by the San Francisco Examiner, and says she has since changed her views.

Though Stefani and Johnson each recognized that apology, they placed the well-being of the San Francisco Unified School District’s diverse student body first. Suicide rates are sadly, heart-breakingly high in the transgender community. One study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found 30 percent of trans youth reported at least one suicide attempt.

“Recent news stories on comments Josephine Zhao made about gender neutral bathrooms and our trans community are very troubling,” Stefani said in a statement.

“I endorsed Josephine because of her work for families in our community and her perspective as a mother, and I appreciate that she has apologized and has learned from her mistake. However, I strongly believe it is our responsibility to ensure that every child in our schools feels safe, comfortable and welcome. Therefore, I am withdrawing my endorsement of her campaign.”

Speaking on the phone Friday, Johnson denounced Zhao’s remarks.

“Seems like she’s put out a public statement, like she’s trying to address the issue, but I can’t abide anyone who dehumanizes others,” Johnson told me. “I think she has some more work to do.”

Zhao, for her part, took the endorsement drops in stride.

“That’s not a problem,” she said. “They’ve got to do what’s best for themselves and their campaigns.”

Zhao told me she had “misunderstood” the 2013 law, which allows transgender students to use the restroom of the gender they identify with.

“I did apologize for not understanding what the law truly was,” she said.

But when I asked her if she had apologized and clarified her remarks in an op-ed piece to the Chinese community, as she had done in the English press, Zhao became evasive.

“I don’t appreciate the line of questions, you’re putting me on interrogation,” Zhao said. “The line of questions are not friendly at all.”

Zhao still has two big backers: Mayor London Breed and State Senator Scott Wiener.

“I stand by my endorsement,” Breed said after a press conference Friday. “Sadly, people make mistakes and sometimes people they say things either in the wrong way, where it can be perceived in an unfortunate way, but I think Josephine Zhao is a good person.”

* * *

It’s not all controversy out there in politics land, as the Edwin M. Lee Asian Pacific Democratic Club had a fun time supporting the new movie Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy starring the ever-amazing Constance Wu (seriously, watch Fresh Off the Boat if you haven’t yet, it’s a trip).
Don’t let the silly rom-com exterior fool you, though, as its a profound moment for the Asian-American community (and its allies) to see an all-Asian cast and Asian director for the first in a Hollywood flick since the Joy Luck Club — a whopping 25 years ago!

Monday night, the Ed Lee Club rented out part of the 1000 Van Ness AMC Theater to screen the film for its members. Mary Jung, a board member of the club, said it was a who’s-who of the local Asian political community: State Board of Equalization board member Fiona Ma, Assemblymember David Chiu, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Assemblymember Phil Ting, Film Commissioner Claudine Cheng, and Arts Commissioner Lydia So attended, among others.

Ultimately they packed the house with more than 500 excited movie-goers.

Jung said the movie showcased Asian people of all stripes. “There was a funny guy, a serious guy, a business guy.”

“It just seemed like people that I knew,” Jung said. That is, except for one teeny-tiny detail, Jung said.

“These people,” she said, “had way too much money.”

Hollywood is escapism after all, isn’t it?

* * *

It’s the grunts that make political campaigns go round, and with so many serious political campaigns going on right now, sign-carrying worker bees are buzzing across The City. Enter Natalie Gee, an SF native and campaigner for District 10 supervisor candidate Shamann Walton, and Ryan McGilley, also an SF native who is campaigning for District 4 supervisor candidate Gordon Mar.

Both are “super busy” working on those political campaigns, Gee told me, and they rarely see each other. Maybe once a week she said. Except! — Tuesday night each of their candidates was up for endorsement at the Alice B. Toklas Club. “I was finding parking, I said oh hey, ‘That’s Ryan!’”

After the Alice meeting, they both went out for ramen.

“That one turned into a date night,” she said — Finally.

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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