School Board Candidate Accused of Transphobia Backs Out of Race

Josephine Zhao's campaign website is still live and her name will remain on the November ballot.

Josephine Zhao, a school board candidate who drew controversy for past comments raising fears over transgender bathroom rights, withdrew from the race Monday morning.

Zhao announced on Facebook that she would step down from the race after intensifying scrutiny over conflicting statements regarding transgender students. Reports by the Examiner and Mission Local found that her public statements supporting the transgender community were contradicted in text messages to Chinese supporters, including one that appeared to outline a strategy to “coordinate internally and externally” her principles.

“While I strongly believe that my positions on a variety of issues have been twisted, misrepresented and used to tear me down personally, I also believe that there are more important issues at play,” Zhao wrote. “I would rather step aside and work for the greater good than allow my candidacy to be a tool of division.”

Because the deadline to formally withdraw from the school board race was on Aug. 31, Zhao’s name will still appear on the November ballot, according to the Department of Elections. With nearly $78,000 for her campaign, Zhao has raised far more than any other school board candidate and still has a functioning website.

In August, Zhao publicly apologized for her advocacy against gender-neutral bathrooms in San Francisco schools laced with transphobic remarks in 2013. The bathrooms, she told Chinese-language newspapers, would lead to “public moral issues,” including rape. 

But a Mission Local analysis of her private messages on Chinese language app WeChat, Zhao bragged that “After the Cow Demons and Snake Spirits at Harvey Milk Dem Club’s smear and attack, I am even more well-known.” 

It didn’t stop there. She stated that two transgender school board candidates were “fighting for the title of ‘first transgender commissioner'” and that with “three homosexuals” also running, “Their highest priority for education would be to spread ideologies.”

Mission Local also found statements from 2016 where she called Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer “Chinese trash” and a “race-traitor” as well as Supervisor Jane Kim a “homewrecker.”

Supervisors Catherine Stefani and supervisor candidate Christine Johnson pulled their endorsements after the initial apology in August but still has the support of Mayor London Breed and state Sen. Scott Wiener. 

“When the history of this sad episode is written, we will not only remember the deafening silence of her high-level supporters but the embarrassing attempt by people who should know better to excuse the inexcusable,” wrote David Campos, former supervisor and chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, on Facebook.

On Monday, she opted once again to publicly fall on the side of supporting transgender students.

“There can be no mixed messages when it comes to transgender rights in our schools,” Zhao wrote. “We must send a message to transgender people, especially transgender children, that is absolutely clear and unequivocal: We support you!”

What she says on WeChat remains to be seen.

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