Political Notes: Sale of rental unit results in resignation of nonbinary East Bay school leader

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday September 25, 2023
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New Haven Unified School District Trustee Melissa Shuen-Mallory had to resign their position after moving outside of the boundaries of their elected position. Photo: Fro, Sheun-Mallory's Facebook page
New Haven Unified School District Trustee Melissa Shuen-Mallory had to resign their position after moving outside of the boundaries of their elected position. Photo: Fro, Sheun-Mallory's Facebook page

Amid escalating fights over LGBTQ school issues even in the liberal Bay Area, a nonbinary East Bay school board member needs to resign due to moving outside of the boundaries of their elected position. Nonetheless, they are not stepping down quietly.

New Haven Unified School District board member Melissa Shuen-Mallory, who also identifies as queer and femme, announced September 5 that the owner of the apartment where they and their wife have been living is selling the property. The couple were given 60 days' notice to move out of their Union City rental and expect to be relocated by November 1 into a new apartment in Fremont.

Because they could not find another place to rent within the confines of their Trustee Area 2 on their school board, Shuen-Mallory will be resigning from their seat effective on October 31. They are doing so "with great regret and sadness," Shuen-Mallory noted in their Facebook post revealing the news.

"This is a harsh reality as a renter, we often face housing instability. With the rental market the way it is, we were unable to find a home for rent in trustee area 2," wrote Shuen-Mallory, who works as a long-term substitute teacher. "My family and I loved living in Decoto and we hope to move back someday."

Elected in 2020 to their seat on the Alameda County school board that oversees K-12 schools in Union City and South Hayward, Shuen-Mallory was one of the first nonbinary candidates to win elective office in the Bay Area. They had planned to seek a second term in 2024.

"It has been an honor serving my community and advocating for better and more equitable schools for our children," wrote Shuen-Mallory.

In a September 20 phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Shuen-Mallory said the October 17 school board meeting would be their last as a trustee. It remains unclear what their municipal political future holds at this point, though Shuen-Mallory did not rule out running for a school board seat in Fremont at some point.

"To be determined," they said.

They will remain a member of the board that oversees the Alameda County Democratic Party. Shuen-Mallory told the B.A.R. they do plan to seek reelection to the party's oversight committee on the March 5 primary ballot in one of the seats allocated to the state's 24th Assembly District in which they will be living.

"I can stay on the DCCC even though I switched Assembly districts because I am still in the county of Alameda," explained Shuen-Mallory.

Speaking out against Sunol school board actions

Meanwhile, they have continued to speak out against the actions of the nearby Sunol Glen School Board after the three-person elected body recently passed a policy by a 2-1 vote that ends the flying of the Pride flag on school district grounds. It prompted a strong rebuttal from Superintendent Molleen Barnes, leading to community concerns that the school board could move to fire her.

Shuen-Mallory released a letter in support of Barnes ahead of a special meeting the Sunol Glen school board scheduled for last Wednesday afternoon. They criticized board president Ryan Jergensen and board member Linda Hurley, who had voted in support of the flag policy, for holding the meeting without the participation of the other board member, Peter "Ted" Romo, who had opposed the Pride flag ban.

"Meeting while Trustee Romo is out of town to make such an important decision is a mockery of democracy and the voters who chose all of you to work together on the school board," wrote Shuen-Mallory. "Scheduling a meeting to assess Ms. Barnes's performance after she took a brave stand to speak out for a class of people that is protected by our state constitution, looks a lot like discrimination in the workplace and retaliation."

The East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club Board also called on the Sunol board members not to fire Barnes. In an email blast last Tuesday the LGBTQ political group called on its members to attend the special meeting and voice support for the superintendent, who also serves as principal of the district's lone school in downtown Sunol that serves 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

"On September 12th, Superintendent Molly stood up for LGBTQ families, students and staff. She was brave. She stood before a board who just weeks before was considering a mandatory outing policy for trans youth, and before a board who has a 2-1 ultra conservative majority," wrote the Stonewall board.

The two Sunol school board members made no announcement of their taking any vote during the closed-door portion of the special meeting. While Barnes was not in attendance, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Alysse Castro did show up to voice her support for Barnes.

"I am deeply troubled by culture wars coming into the classroom," Castro told reporters outside the hearing.

South Bay issues

It is just the latest in a string of recent LGBTQ-related controversies that have embroiled Bay Area school districts. This year, parents and teachers in the San Jose Unified School District have decried the discrimination and bullying that LGBTQ students and staff in the South Bay district have had to endure.

It led to the school board adopting a resolution in August condemning homophobia and transphobia on its campuses, as the newsite San Jose Spotlight reported.

San Jose City Councilmember Bien Doan also came under fire this summer for agreeing to address Parents of Silicon Valley, which many in the South Bay have criticized for pushing anti-LGBTQ and racist polices in local schools. Amid the outcry Doan pulled out of the event, writing in a lengthy thread on X, formerly Twitter, that he was unaware of the group's stances, and issued an apology "especially to those in our LGBTQ+ community, such as my family members, who still deal with hate from outsiders based solely on who they choose to love."

The rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and racism within public policy debates led gay San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres to partner with his colleague Councilmember Pam Foley on introducing an anti-hate resolution at the council. They held a No Room for Hate rally at City Hall September 20 with parents, labor officials, and LGBTQ leaders of the city, where the move to ban books in schools was denounced and several speakers recommitted to supporting transgender youth.

"As some of you may know, I have been threatened & attacked for being openly gay BUT for also defending our drag & trans community," wrote Torres, formerly an elected community college board member, in a Facebook post.

He added, "Remember, Pride season might be over but we must celebrate everyday, it's crucial, we all take a stand against recent attacks against our Trans and LGBTQIA+ friends, family and neighbors by right wing activists and their allies."

The Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center has teamed up with the Reverend Sammie Evans from PACT (People Acting in Community Together) to host a community organizing meeting next month aimed at addressing the "concerted effort to take over California School Boards, including in San Jose, to pass policies to rid curricula regarding LGBTQ's, ban books in schools which include LGBTQ+ content, and make demands on schools to inform parents that their child has changed their name/gender."

It begins at 7p.m. Thursday, October 5, at the center. Those interested in attending can sign up online here.

During their time as a school board member Shuen-Mallory has also had to deal with LGBTQ issues. As the B.A.R. noted in a 2021 story, they were motivated to push for stronger policies in support of LGBTQ students in their school district after several hundred parents objected to the reading of a book about the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk a fourth grade class as part of the district's LGBTQ History Month observance that October.

Being the lone LGBTQ community member serving on the board, Shuen-Mallory told the B.A.R. they are concerned about the loss of such representation once they depart next month.

"My colleagues on the New Haven Unified School District board, as well as the superintendent, all have been extremely supportive of LGBTQIA-plus issues," Shuen-Mallory stressed to the B.A.R. though they also noted, "When you are not the person actually in the group of people being affected sometimes you don't see what let's say an LGBTIA-plus elected would see. Even if their intention is to be supportive and do everything they can for LGBTIA-plus students and families, they may not notice it."

For that reason Shuen-Mallory has encouraged LGBTQ people residing in their trustee area to consider applying to be appointed to serve out the rest of their term through the end of 2024. At the time they spoke with the B.A.R. Shuen-Mallory was unaware of any LGBTQ individual having done so.

"Someone did reach out to me whose children are. I am encouraged by that," said Shuen-Mallory.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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