LGBTQ Victory Institute works to see out candidates elected to school boards

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 10, 2022
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The LGBTQ Victory Fund and its affiliated Victory Institute is working to see more LGBTQ candidates elected to local school boards. Photo: Courtesy<br>
The LGBTQ Victory Fund and its affiliated Victory Institute is working to see more LGBTQ candidates elected to local school boards. Photo: Courtesy

Long regarded as nonpartisan, the nation's school boards recently have been identified as crucial battlegrounds by right-wing and conservative groups, while LGBTQ advocates want to see greater diversity on them.

On May 9, former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who was found guilty in July of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for intentionally defying a subpoena related to the assault on the U.S. Capitol last year, interviewed the winner of the Frisco, Texas, school board on his War Room podcast.

The winner, Stephanie Elad, won her seat after running a campaign "heavily focused on culture war topics, including critical race theory," according to the Dallas Morning News. Her campaign was supported in part by the conservative political action committee, the 1776 Project, which sent supportive texts to potential voters. The 1776 Project describes itself as "a political action committee dedicated to electing school board members nationwide who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history." (Critical race theory was developed by academics that seek to examine the intersection of race, society, and law in the U.S.)

Bannon touted Elad's victory as "just the beginning in the nation," the Dallas Morning News reported. "And this is how we're going to take the nation back — village by village, school district by school district," Bannon said on the podcast.

At the same time, LGBTQ rights groups such as the LGBTQ Victory Institute have also identified the country's school boards as a place where LGBTQ voters can have a huge impact.

"Public schools in the U.S. have been under increasingly fervent attack in the past few years," according to the institute's eight-page report, "Few & Under Fire: LGBTQ School Board Members in the U.S.," "LGBTQ students, teachers and administrators have faced the brunt of this vitriol, making LGBTQ representation on school boards more important than ever."

Across the country, the Victory Fund — the institute's PAC — supports LGBTQ candidates in what press secretary Albert Fujii described as down ballot campaigns, those campaigns for office at the local level that often don't garner as much attention as races for governor or members of Congress. But this year, that may be changing as school districts become more polarized and some states, like Florida, have the "Don't Say Gay Bill" that prohibits dicussions of LGBTQ issues.

"Schools have become ground zero for anti-LGBTQ attacks and in many cases, LGBTQ school board members have been specifically targeted," according to a news release from the Victory Fund.

And with such low numbers — only .01% of the nation's 90,000 school board members are LGBTQ, according to the fund — increasing representation is vital.

That .01% is "far below the 7.1% of U.S. adults who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. To achieve equitable representation among school board members, U.S. voters would need to elect 6,300 more LGBTQ school board members," the release stated.

Doing so will increase the ability to introduce pro-LGBTQ policies, said Fujii, in a phone call with the Bay Area Reporter.

To date, the Victory Fund has endorsed 13 school board candidates around the country, Fujii said, and a few have already been successful, including Alex Ruggiers in Norman, Oklahoma, who in April won a seat as the first openly LGBTQ person on that city's school board. The fund expects to endorse new candidates monthly, Fujii said.

James Aguilar, who's president of the San Leandro school board, is seeking reelection in November. Photo: Courtesy James Aguilar  

Bay Area candidates
Here in the Bay Area, there are several LGBTQ candidates seeking local school board seats. The Victory Fund has endorsed gay San Leandro Unified School District board President James Aguilar, who is running for reelection.

Aguilar did not return a message seeking comment, but his campaign website notes that he is running because "our school district needs strong and bold leadership to work towards equity, and to keep putting students first."

Another local gay candidate is Leland Traiman, who's running for a seat on the Alameda Unified School District board.

In an email, Traiman, who came up short in his campaign for a seat on the Alameda school board in 2020, said he was mostly running "against" the current board. He was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that got a 2020 school parcel tax invalidated, he stated.

"Reduce class size, not classroom hours," Traiman's ballot statement reads. "Financial responsibility with taxpayers' money is the most important job of board members second to concerns for students, teachers and staff. However, the current board has failed both students and taxpayers. The board created illegal tax measures allowing large corporations to avoid school taxes and bond measures which annually diverts millions to large corporate banks outside Alameda."

Leland Traiman is running for a seat on the Alameda school board. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Traiman, who is a father to two children with his partner, Stuart Blandon Traiman, is a retired nurse practitioner, small businessperson, former high school teacher, and recent law school graduate. For many years he ran Rainbow Flag Health Services and Sperm Bank.

Nick Resnick, a transgender man, is running for a seat on the Oakland school board. In this week's Political Notebook, Resnick, a queer married father of two sons, said that representation is important and that parents' voices are needed on local school boards.

There are no out candidates running for seats on the San Francisco school board this year, though the filing deadline is August 12. Its lone LGBTQ member, Mark Sanchez, formerly a school principal in the district, is not up for reelection.

Mayor London Breed appointed three straight women following the recall of three commissioners in February. All are seeking election, though one, Ann Hsu, has come under intense criticism for racist comments she made — and later apologized for — in a candidate questionnaire. Several other candidates have also filed to run.

Elsewhere in California, the Victory Fund has also endorsed Andrew Taban, currently running for school board of the William S. Hart High School District in Los Angeles County, and teacher Jorge Pacheco Jr., who is running for reelection to the Oak Grove Board of Trustees in Santa Clara County.

The Victory Fund gives its endorsees "really hands-on support," said Fujii, from pulling together campaigns to finding volunteers.

That's paid off well for California where, Fujii said, there are currently 22 LGBTQ school board members across the state, almost 25% of LGBTQ school board members around the United States. Across the political spectrum, California has more elected LGBTQ officials than any other state and — within California — San Diego has elected four LGBTQ Assembly members over the years, one more than San Francisco, and is currently represented by an out Assembly and Senate member.

The City-by-the-Bay has also sent four out state legislators to Sacramento: three Assembly members and one state Senator. It currently is represented by an out Senate member.

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