Ever since January 20, 2017, the day Trump ascended the Presidency, the transgender community hasn’t gotten a moment’s rest. The onslaught began within days when LGBTQ content was removed from federal websites. Then there was an attempt to ban LGBTQ people from seeking asylum; the trans ban in the military; the rolled back protections for trans people in prisons; the expansion of religious freedoms to include discrimination; and now the Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to narrow the definition of gender to sex-assigned at birth.
Given the immense amount of oppression being heaped upon the trans community on the federal level, one can forget that there are dangers closer to home. While all politicians in San Francisco claim to support the trans community, many fail the test when it comes to standing up when it counts, and a few are actively working against our interests.
On September 10, 2018, Josephine Zhao, a candidate for San Francisco Board of Education announced that she was withdrawing from the race. Zhao stated that recent reporting of her opinions on transgender-inclusive bathroom policies twisted her words and positions. She blamed LGBT groups and progressive democratic leadership for turning her words into a tool of division.
Everyone, including Mrs. Zhao’s most ardent supporters, agreed that the transphobic statements she made in 2013 were troubling. However, those who endorsed Zhao claimed her position on the issue had evolved, citing her recent apology. Zhao’s defenders accused the progressive community of lacking cultural sensitivity and of blindly adhering to political ideology.
These statements willfully ignore the facts. It’s not that progressives don’t believe people can evolve and change. The issue with Mrs. Zhao is something that her supporters make every attempt to minimize under the cover of cultural sensitivity: she hasn’t evolved.
A report by Mission Local revealed that Mrs. Zhao was still engaging her base using the same transphobic rhetoric she had recently denounced. Going beyond the comments she made in 2013, she described her competition as “two transgender candidates … fighting for the title of ‘first transgender commissioner’ … There are also three homosexuals. Their highest priority for education would be to spread ideologies.” In another report, the Examiner obtained messages where Mrs. Zhao clearly outlined her beliefs, intentions, and tactics. “I only apologized for the misunderstanding of their legislation, and am not supporting gender-neutral bathrooms,” she claimed, assuring her supporters that she would continue to say one thing in public, but that “my principles remain in my heart.” These articles included screenshots of Zhao’s words and leave no room for misunderstanding.
What Josephine Zhao has done not only hurts the transgender community, it is a disservice to the Chinese immigrant community. Mrs. Zhao was not being used as a tool of division by progressives; Zhao herself was the expert wielder, exploiting a community’s apprehension and fears for political gain. She has driven a greater wedge between these two communities and made them both more skeptical of allies who could bridge that divide.
Although Mrs. Zhao has declared an end to her campaign, it is complicated by the fact that the deadline to formally withdraw from the November 2018 race had passed, and her name still appears on the ballot. Additionally, Mrs. Zhao has not closed her campaign accounts, and her supporters are actively and aggressively campaigning for her. Given these facts, we believe that it is entirely possible that Josephine Zhao could be elected despite having “dropped out” of the race.
As a city, as a state, we cannot continue to cosign bigotry and hatred. We are particularly disappointed in EQCA Board Member Mandy Lee’s decision to defend Josephine Zhao while pointedly omitting Mrs. Zhao’s most recent transgressions which clearly belie her apology. We believe that someone who is unable to take a strong stance in support of transgender youth has no place on an LGBT Board. We also call on Senator Scott Wiener, Mayor London Breed, Board of Equalization Chair Fiona Ma, and City Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chiu to do right by the transgender community. At this point, with the weight of anti-trans federal amendments looming over us, merely rescinding an endorsement will not undo the damage that is being done every day you continue to silently cosign bigotry. We urge you to actively come out against Josephine Zhao.
Honey Mahogany, Executive Director, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District
Frances Hsieh, Member, San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee
Cecilia Chung, Co-Director of Programs, Transgender Law Center
Alexander Lee, Founder, Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project
Sammie Ablaza Wills, Director, API Equality – Northern California
Nikki “Tita Aida” Calma, Community Advocate and Performer