SF school board hopefuls among growing number of openly trans candidates nationwide

The momentous wins of transgender candidates in municipal, state and federal elections last week moved San Francisco activist Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya to tears.

“I totally cried last night and again this morning,” the 26-year-old said Wednesday, following the election of Virginia’s first openly trans lawmaker, Danica Roem, to the Virginia House of Delegates.

On Nov. 1, Satya joined the ranks of a growing number of openly trans candidates running for public office when she filed to run for the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, where three seats will be up for grabs in 2018. Satya is the second trans person to declare her candidacy for the next Board of Education election.

Satya last year became the first trans woman to graduate from Emerge California, a program that trains women to step into the political arena. When she was admitted to the program, Satya said there were only “three trans people who we could identify who were elected as ‘out’ politicians.”

Before her current role as lead employment specialist at the San Francisco LGBT Center, Satya served on numerous committees, including the San Francisco Youth Commission and as the director for youth engagement at Transitional Age Youth San Francisco.

Satya said that she was forced to take on the role of activist as a teenager.

“I had to be an activist to survive in a small town where my school district was actively policing my gender, my family was not on my side, and my church was telling me I was going to hell,” she said.

After being sent to reparative therapy by her parents, Satya left her conservative past in Texas for San Francisco, where she experienced homelessness and became the victim of violence because of her gender identity, before turning her narrative into one of empowerment.

As of Friday, nine openly transgender candidates were elected to public offices throughout the country. Satya hopes to add to that number locally, and she isn’t alone.

Months before Satya announced her run, Martin Rawlings-Fein was eyeing the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of marginalized students who are often the targets of discrimination.

In June, the 40-year-old transgender father of two announced what will be his second attempt at running for school board.

If elected next year, Rawlings-Fein, who works as an audiovisual technician in UC San Francisco’s department of radiology and is a leader in the Jewish Sha’ar Zahav synagogue, plans to revamp the student assignment process and tackle discrimination in schools.

“I want to give kids hope for the future,” Rawlings-Fein said, adding that he plans to push for policies and for non-gender bathroom signage, which he said is still lacking at some San Francisco schools.

Rawlings-Fein recalled an incident in which a parent publicly outed him as trans at his daughter’s school.

“We need to talk to kids in appropriate ways that make them not feel that they are defective,” he said. “I would love to bring those conversations to the board and open people’s minds.”

Rawlings-Fein first filed for school board in 2012, but pulled out then because he was simultaneously undergoing gender conversion surgery. Trans candidate Jamie Rafaela Wolfe vied for the school board in 2014, but lost.

For both Satya and Rawlings-Fein, “the time is right” for a transgender leader to navigate the school district. To date, the school board has never had an openly trans commissioner.

“There is a lot of signage that needs changed and there need to be policies laid down,” said Rawlings-Fein about instilling equity and acceptance into San Francisco’s public schools.

School board members are elected to four year terms. Members with expiring terms are President Shamann Walton, who is a candidate in the District 10 supervisorial race and is not seeking re-election to the school board; Vice President Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell and Commissioner Emily Murase.

Murase filed for reelection in August, though Mendoza-McDonnell has not publicly confirmed whether she will seek a fourth term.

Commissioner Matt Haney said it has been “awhile since there have been three seats with only one [known] incumbent” — and that the soon-to-be vacancies have drawn an “unusual number” of contenders early on in the race.

Since July, a total of 13 candidates have filed to run for school board, though one candidate has since dropped out.

Josephine Zhao is a Chinese immigrant, landlord and mother of two who hopes to “expand support for English learners, newcomers, kids with learning disabilities and those with social economic disadvantages” if elected to the school board.

Longtime education advocate Michelle Parker is a mother of three and sat on the executive board of the San Francisco District Parent Teacher Association. She is a co-founder of the San Francisco Parent Political Action Committee.

Leah Pimentel is a third generation Bayview resident and political activist. She has served as a school governance facilitator for Parents of Public Schools in San Francisco.

Zhao, Parker and Pimentel are all graduates of Emerge California.

Monica Chinchilla is a mother and community activist who serves as commissioner on the Southeast Community Facility Commission and coordinator for the San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition.

U.S. Navy veteran Paul Kangas is a father of three, works as a news reporter for KPOO and as a private investigator, and advocates for solar energy in schools.

Former seventh grade science teacher Phil Kim works on STEM policy nationally for the KIPP nonprofit charter school network.

Other candidates include Julia Prochnik, Sarah Thompson-Peer and Alida Fisher.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Board of Education candidate Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya in the story and photo caption.

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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