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Guest Opinion: Zhao unfit to serve on SF school board

by Marilyn Murrillo

School board candidate Josephine Zhao
School board candidate Josephine Zhao  

We need members on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees who are effective leaders dedicated to the safety and education of all students. This November, voters will elect three new trustees. One candidate, Josephine Zhao, has a history of virulent transphobic policy positions. Specifically, Zhao has dehumanized transgender people in public statements by saying that allowing transgender students to access the restroom according to the gender they identify with would lead to "rape" in schools. This is exactly why Zhao is unfit to serve as a trustee. Furthermore, transgender students deserve school board trustees that are 100 percent committed to the safety and education of all students. Zhao has apologized. Her apology is very late and comes after she was publicly called out for not apologizing; this is further evidence of her lack of fitness to serve as an elected official. Furthermore, we should question the judgment of any elected officials who continue to endorse this transphobic candidate for SFUSD school board.

The fact that Zhao is an immigrant is not germane to the issue of transphobia because San Francisco is a city that welcomes immigrants. San Francisco does not, and should not, welcome transphobic candidates for elected office.

Transphobic hate speech, discrimination, and harassment is harmful to the mental health of transgender students and can lead to attempted suicide. For example, 46.5 percent of respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 2008-2009 admitted to having attempted suicide. However, only 4.6 percent of the general U.S. population in 2006 reported attempted suicide. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed a statistical significance associated with those denied restroom access and attempted suicide and "suggests that there may be a distinct relationship between the stress of not being able to use bathrooms ... and one's mental health." 1 According to Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, there are many reasons why individuals attempt suicide and "If you make people's lives miserable, they're more likely to have a mental health reaction to that." 2

We just can't trust Zhao to protect transgender students or to advocate for transgender students' needs and concerns based on Zhao's penchant for transphobic hate speech.

What San Francisco needs is candidates for elected office that are well prepared for the increasing challenges that face SFUSD's diverse student body. Zhao has demonstrated that she is willing to demonize transgender students while advocating for school policies and she has demonstrated that she is not prepared to be an effective leader on the SFUSD Board of Trustees.

Furthermore, according to JoAnn Bartoletti, chair of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration and executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, "Schools need effective leaders now more than ever to take on the challenges of educating students for success in the 21st century ... They stress the importance of both academic rigor as well as the support and care required for each student to excel." 3

How can we trust Zhao to support and care for SFUSD transgender students, given her history of hate speech against transgender students?


1 Kutner, M. (05/01/16). Denying Transgender People Bathroom Access is Linked to Suicide. U.S. Newsweek. Retrieved August 20, 2018 from

2 Kutner, M. (05/01/16). Denying Transgender People Bathroom Access is Linked to Suicide. U.S. Newsweek. Retrieved August 20, 2018 from

3 National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Retrieved March 20, 2018 from

Marilyn Murrillo, M.A., a transgender woman, is a substitute teacher.


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