Political Notebook: Gay educator Hale seeks open San Jose college board seat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 30, 2023
Share this Post:
Gay educator Clay Hale is running in a special election for a South Bay community college board seat. Photo: Courtesy Hale's FB page<br>
Gay educator Clay Hale is running in a special election for a South Bay community college board seat. Photo: Courtesy Hale's FB page

Due to the election last November of gay San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres, the District 7 seat he had held on the seven-person board that oversees the San José-Evergreen Community College District has been vacant this year. Voters in the downtown-centered district will be voting this November in a special election for one of five candidates seeking to serve out the remainder of Torres' term through the end of next year.

Thus, the winner will need to seek a full four-year term on the fall 2024 ballot and have a leg up as the incumbent against any opponents who also file. Aiming to hold that frontrunner status is gay educator Clay Hale, who works for the East Side Union High School District.

"I know this is a very down ballot race and I know it is in a weird election cycle," Hale told the Bay Area Reporter during a recent video interview about his campaign. "We are trying to outreach to our voters to make sure they understand how important it is to vote in this election and what is at stake."

Hale, 28, teaches AP government and politics at the district's Yerba Buena High School. But two days a week he works at the campus of Evergreen Valley College assisting students from his high school who are enrolled in classes at the community college through a special program that prepares them to seek a college degree.

"I am the only candidate who spends time at the San José-Evergreen district," said Hale, who lives in San Jose's Japantown district with his partner of eight years, Jonathan Cruz Ishii, a former teacher who now works in the ed tech sector.

Endorsed by the national LGBTQ Victory Fund, Hale has attracted support from a number of South Bay leaders, including gay Cupertino City Councilmember JR Fruen and gay former Santa Clara County supervisor Ken Yeager, who became the first out person elected in the county with his winning a seat on the college board in 1992.

"I want to be an advocate for our students, staff, and faculty on this board," said Hale. "I feel so often that teachers, who are in the trenches every single day of the week advocating for our students, so often our voices are not elevated to these elected boards. I think it is time we have teachers in these elected spaces to advocate for our fellow educators, our students, and our staff, and to make sure teachers get the respect they deserve, and get the pay and benefits they need to successfully thrive in our Bay Area."

As a first-time candidate for public office who has little name recognition with voters, Hale faces a tough campaign for the seat. He also finds himself running against another candidate, Lisanna Dominguez, with strong ties to the South Bay's political and education circles.

Dominguez, chief of staff and strategy officer for the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, has the endorsement of Torres in the race, along with gay Oak Grove School District Trustee Jorge Pacheco Jr. Most of San Jose's city councilmembers and its county supervisors are supporting Dominguez, a former community college student who had served as executive vice president of the Latino Education Advancement Foundation.

Also on the ballot is Santa Clara County Airport Land-Use Commissioner Diego Barragan, a San Jose native who lives downtown with his wife and two kids, plus former candidates for seats on the college board educator Stephen Eckstone and Anthony Macias, a gay Republican in law school.

With five candidates in what is likely to be a low-turnout election, the victor likely will only need a slight vote advantage to win. Hale told the B.A.R. he believes he can attract a winning margin of voters if he has a strong get-out-the-vote effort.

"I feel very confident come November 7 on our chances in this election," said Hale. "Definitely, we need to do a lot of voter education to make sure voters know what the community college is, what responsibility we have as trustees, and the impact they have as voters in this election."

Attended community college

Hale grew up in Sacramento and entered a nearby community college, Sierra College, after he graduated high school. He eventually transferred to UC Berkeley and earned a history degree, becoming the first person in his family to graduate college.

He then landed a teaching job with his school district and moved to San Jose. He established a requirement at the school that students needed to complete a civic engagement project in order to earn their diploma.

"One of my very big passions is getting students civically engaged," said Hale. "We are making sure our students have the tools to be civically engaged in our communities. When they graduate high school, they have a tool chest of different civic engagement tools to address inequalities they see in Santa Clara County, the Bay Area, and our nation."

With most of his students also the first ones in their families to attend college, Hale said he decided to seek the college board seat as a way to ensure his pupils and others like them can succeed if they enroll at one of the district's two main campuses. It also operates San Jose City College.

"They face a lot of challenges, like having college classes being canceled so they don't have the classes they need to fulfill major requirements. They are not always aware about the opportunities community college offers for them," said Hale. "Also, all of our students face housing insecurities."

The college doesn't currently offer housing, something Hale said he wants to help explore if elected to the board. The district, which has nearly 16,000 students, is also searching for a new chancellor, so the winner of the race will likely play a part in selecting the person for the job, as the search is to begin this fall.

Another issue Hale said he wants to address if elected to the board seat is pay for the college's faculty, who also face housing constraints due to the high cost of living in the area.

"The Bay Area is expensive; San Jose is expensive," said Hale. "Educators can not afford to save for a down payment in the Bay Area. I feel very passionate about the needs of fellow educators."

With LGBTQ issues in schools increasingly under attack, even in California, Hale said he also entered the race to ensure LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff feel they have a voice on the college board.

"I firmly believe, now more than ever, it is important we have LGBTQ individuals elected to boards of education," Hale told the B.A.R. "We need to be represented throughout our boards of education to make sure we are advancing policies for our community, now more than ever. I am ready to be that advocate in San Jose."

Should he win the race, Hale also pledged to be a vocal advocate campaigning against any anti-LGBTQ ballot measures that conservatives are able to place before California voters. There is a move to put three such initiatives on next fall's ballot, including one that would allow school districts to forcibly out transgender students to their parents and one that would restrict the school athletic teams that trans female students can play on. (See related story.)

"As an elected official I would also be an advocate for our community at the Bay Area and state level to push back against any of those ballot propositions that might be on the ballot in years to come," said Hale. "We need to take a stand, a strong and loud stand. Part of being an elected official is to be an advocate for our community as well. I think our Bay Area community understands the intentionality behind these ballot initiatives is to harm our students."

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the fight over parental rights policies in schools.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko

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

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.